Cuomo dynasty ends; search for 'tough liberal' persists

Cuomo dynasty ends; search for 'tough liberal' persists
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And so, another political dynasty has ended. Like the Kennedy dynasty before it, the Cuomo dynasty ends in tragedy and personal failure.

By preparing to run for a fourth term, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBatya Ungar-Sargon discusses Cuomo brothers' delayed downfall Cuomo quits radio show to 'focus on what comes next' Cuomo's firing from CNN came amid allegation of sexual misconduct: report MORE was clearly trying to beat his father’s record as a three-term governor. And eventually, maybe, do something his father never did: make it to the White House. There was a lot of talk about that in 2020, when Cuomo’s daily press briefings on the pandemic made him a national star (and won him an Emmy).

Both the Cuomo dynasty and the Kennedy dynasty represented a specific tradition in the Democratic Party. The Kennedys and the Cuomos were tough liberals. Today “tough liberal” may sound like an oxymoron — a contradiction in terms like “working vacation” and “dressy casual.” But tough liberalism was the tradition of the old Democratic Party, the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. They were big government liberals, but they were also tough guys. Defy them and you’d pay a price for it.


FDR said in his 1936 campaign, “[My enemies] are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. JFK faced down the Soviet Union in the Cuban missile crisis when the world came to the brink of nuclear war. Defy LBJ and you’d wake up in the morning wishing you were missing an important body part. Those old-fashioned Democrats were not to be trifled with.

Ever since LBJ, Democrats have had a problem finding tough liberals. Hubert Humphrey? Not his own man. George McGovern? He was “one thousand percent” behind his running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, before he dropped him from the ticket. Walter Mondale? He got pushed around by the special interests. Michael Dukakis? He got beaten up by “the wimp.”

As a result of the Watergate scandal, Democrats elected Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterBob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective Biden's proposals spark phase 2 of supply chain crisis US expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report MORE because, after Richard Nixon, the country wanted a preacher. So we elected a preacher, and discovered he wasn’t tough enough for the job.

In the 1970s, Democrats longed for “another Kennedy” to come and save them. But Sen. Edward Kennedy proved to be a flawed candidate damaged by a personal tragedy. In the 1980s, Democrats saw Mario Cuomo as their savior — a tough, compassionate, street-smart liberal. I remember the day in December 1991 when Democrats waited breathlessly for Cuomo to file for the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary. He chose to stay in New York instead.

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonIs the US capable of thinking strategically? Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective Biden on Bob Dole: 'among the greatest of the Greatest Generation' MORE proved he was tough by facing down the press over his relationship with Gennifer Flowers and over his draft record. He called House Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE’s bluff when the Republican Congress shut down the federal government. In the end, Clinton’s personal failings got him impeached.

Some Democrats worried that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Biden, bruised by Afghanistan, faces a critical test in Ukraine Is the US capable of thinking strategically? Juan Williams: GOP infighting is a gift for Democrats MORE was too weak and accommodating. He ended those concerns in his first term when he brushed aside the hand-wringing over Pakistani sensibilities and went in and took out Osama bin Laden. And again in his second term, when he apparently dismissed the legal reservations about targeting an American citizen and allegedly eliminated Anwar al-Awlaki.

Joe BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE proved his toughness by defeating the fearsome Trump monster. And what after Biden? Andrew Cuomo tried to prove his toughness by defying the calls for his resignation or impeachment. He aimed to be the one political figure who could stand up to his accusers in the “Me Too” movement and survive. Cuomo’s problem was that the base of the Democratic Party has changed.

Every politician has to have a base. Your base is the people who are with you when you’re wrong. Ronald Reagan’s base stood by him in the Iran-Contra affair when he sold arms to Iran. Bill Clinton’s base stood by him in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he had an affair in the White House and lied about it. Donald Trump’s base has stayed loyal to him even in defeat. Andrew Cuomo defied his base by defending abusive behavior that is no longer tolerated. Cuomo tried to challenge the believability of his accusers. But they turned out to be tougher than he is.

Bill Schneider is an emeritus professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of ‘Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (Simon & Schuster).