Opinion: Carolina Journal Opinions

Cuomo a Cheerleader for ‘Cool Government’

• Andrew M. Cuomo, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, Harper, 2014, 517 pages, $29.99.

One doubts that All Things Possible would have appeared if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, did not aspire to be president of the United States. He was mentioned as a running mate for Al Gore in 2000 and can boast experience as Housing and Urban Development boss under Bill Clinton. That stint sets the tone for Cuomo’s views on government.

“I set out to help save an agency Republicans had written off, and at times, tried to abolish,” Cuomo writes. Traveling around the country for HUD, “I’d seen effective programs and examples of creative government.” He shared Al Gore’s “vision of making government leaner and more efficient.” Cuomo provides no examples of how, exactly, Gore wanted to slim down government, but the author explains, “I wanted to push a progressive agenda forward.”

The Democratic Party of early ’80s was “trying to juxtapose its progressive vision — a philosophy of opportunity and shared success for all — with the Republican idea of attenuated government and survival of the fittest, embodied by Ronald Reagan.” Further, “blaming Reagan was correct but also was the simple answer.”

On the other hand, Clinton’s election generated renewed hope for “replacing the malaise brought on by 12 years of Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were the next generation. They made government cool again.” And unlike Republicans, Clinton took on the country’s “large-scale urban ills.”

When Clinton issued an executive order “directing HUD to break the cycle of homelessness in America,” Cuomo took the lead. But his experience suggests that government might not be so cool after all. He quotes former HUD boss Henry Cisneros that the federal agency is “a bureaucracy far more attentive to process than results, characterized by slavish loyalty to nonperforming programs.” That accords with Cuomo’s own observations.

“HUD had taught me,” he explains, “that a central-government-knows-best approach rarely produces the best results.” In fact, “even the physical space at HUD was dysfunctional,” not exactly a ringing endorsement of activist government.

Readers also will find enlightening Andrew Cuomo’s experience as New York governor. For example, more education funding “was not necessarily improving students’ or teachers’ performance. It was about growing the bureaucracy.” By Cuomo’s account, New York spends an average of $19,522 per pupil annually, $8,914 more than the national average and more than any other state. Yet, says the governor, New York students ranked 32nd nationwide in their graduation rate. Cuomo is uncritical of teacher unions and favors government funded charter schools, but says charters are “no substitute for a public education system.”

All Things Possible does not allow the possibility that students should have the opportunity to choose the schools they attend, government-run or independent. Cuomo’s priority in education is “statewide kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. It is expensive and difficult, but the best single investment we can make in our children.” So it’s all for the children. The governor is also big on gun control, and calls “regressive” a flat tax in which every taxpayer pays the same rate.

“I am critical of government when I feel criticism is deserved,” Cuomo claims. “On the flip side, when government does what it is supposed to do, I will be the head cheerleader.” Further, “compassion and competence are not in tension but could be bound together, each essential to the effective pursuit of social justice.”

Here we see the same dynamic displayed by Barack Obama. Cuomo cheers the ever-expanding bureaucratic state as essential to the public good. When bureaucratic waste, fraud, and abuse become apparent, he gets angry. Unfortunately, the waste and incompetence inherent in the system does not change the vision in the slightest. In fact, as the author sees it, more dependency on government is the very thing the nation needs.

For all its candor, All Things Possible does not give Republicans any reason to boast. As Cuomo notes, they talked a good game about abolishing HUD but never did so. And the author notes that the reign of Samuel Pierce, Reagan’s HUD boss, was hardly exemplary. Former football star Jack Kemp talked a good limited-government game ,but George H.W. Bush made him play quarterback for HUD, and therefore rendered him useless. As Cuomo says, even the physical space there is dysfunctional.

Though it is not the author’s intention, All Things Possible points out the difference between being in office and being in power. Politicians come and go, but the bureaucratic establishment remains. As legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes, it exercises the executive, legislative, and judicial power that properly belongs to elected officials alone. Those officials, Democrats and Republicans, fail to eliminate corrupt, wasteful, and counterproductive bureaucracies. They tend to start new ones, and whatever the expense or failure, rarely fire anybody of consequence.

Andrew Cuomo does not provide much evidence that he would do so, nor that a Cuomo presidency would differ much from that of Obama’s, even though Cuomo rides a Harley. Mario Cuomo’s son would have been more convincing if he fired one of the people who helped him write All Things Possible, with such jumbled metaphors as, “the poetry of politics can fail, at times, in the prose of governing.” Or the book’s notation that a New York ban on assault weapons “had more holes than Swiss cheese!” As Olson Johnson said after Gabby Johnson’s speech in Blazing Saddles, “now who can argue with that?”

Lloyd Billingsley is a contributor to Carolina Journal.