- - Wednesday, January 7, 2015


One summer morning in 2009, my cellphone beeped with a message. The voice at the other end was deep, resonant, authoritative but friendly.

Monica! It’s Mario Cuomo,” he said. “Please give me a call when you can. I’d like to talk with you.”

When I reached him, he was full of good cheer and kind words about something I had recently written. I don’t remember the topic, but it was something that had long interested him, and he was intrigued by my take on it. After about 15 minutes, he signed off with a great compliment: “Great work!” And encouragement: “Keep it up, kid!” I particularly appreciated the “kid” part.

New York’s former governor passed away on Jan. 1. He was a wily, relentless politician, an old-school Democrat and a true believer in big government. As a result, he ran the state largely into the ground with confiscatory taxes, burdensome regulations and misguided leftist attempts to “equalize” society.

But his influence ran deep. The class warfare themes of President Obama and the “two New Yorks” theme of New York Mayor Bill deBlasio can be traced to Cuomo’s fire-breathing speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, during which he said, “But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city’s splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city the part where some people can’t pay their mortgages, and most young people can’t afford one .”

The progressives may change, but their ideology doesn’t.

Unlike most modern Democrats, however, Cuomo often fought to protect our founding principles rather than destroy them.

In 1993, he helped to save the New York Post, the conservative editorial bent of which drove Cuomo crazy on a daily basis. As the paper faltered due to ownership and legal battles, Cuomo rallied the newsroom staff with words of the paper’s “indestructibility,” and wrote to the head of the Federal Communications Commission: “I frequently disagree with The Post’s editorial stance … . I anticipate that under Rupert Murdoch, I will continue to find myself at odds nevertheless I respect the value of a vigorous, independent journalism voice, and would join its other readers in bemoaning its passing.”

Imagine: A prominent national Democrat going to bat for a conservative newspaper. What a difference from today’s coordinated, relentless leftist efforts to attack and shut down conservative voices, a Democratic president who constantly demonizes those who oppose him, and an Internal Revenue Service under that same Democrat targeting conservative and religious groups.

I grew up in neighboring New Jersey, and I remember Cuomo as a larger than-life character with whom I almost never agreed.

But I also remember him as someone who actually respected opposing views. During the four years I worked as a foreign policy assistant to former President Nixon, from 1990 until his death in 1994, I witnessed their friendship and intellectual camaraderie. They may not have agreed on much, but they admired each other’s wide-ranging minds and scope of impact. Cuomo reminded Nixon of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another prominent New York Democrat whom he considered a heavyweight.

Nixon and Cuomo often shared copies of books they found interesting. They’d leave Nixon’s hands dog-eared and underlined, only to come back after Cuomo had read them, even more beaten up. After both men had read each book, a long conversation would ensue.

After Nixon passed away, I’d occasionally run into Cuomo, who was always gracious and encouraging, even as he’d challenge my conservative principles. I hadn’t talked to him since that 2009 phone call, but when news of his death came last week, I thought of his kindness to me. I didn’t know him well by any stretch, and yet he had extended himself to me in a generous way.

That’s what’s missing from today’s politics: graciousness. Of course, we should have — must have — true intellectual and political combat. It’s missing a kind of decency, though. It’s all bruising, all the time. Mario Cuomo was a bruiser. But he often leavened the harshness of politics with basic courtesy. Others report an often abusive and abrasive figure. I encountered a gruff but open gentleman.

Politics was his life, but he knew life wasn’t politics. At least not all the time.

I won’t miss Cuomo’s politics, but I will miss him. And I wish more of today’s Democrats would channel his approach. The Democratic Party, and the country, would be the better for it.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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