For several years in the late 1980s and early ’90s, following New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s flirtations with a presidential run became one of the country’s favorite political parlor games. In the end, despite being courted by the liberal press and many Democratic Party insiders, Cuomo never was able to pull the trigger on his candidacy and became known as “Hamlet on the Hudson” for his indecision. But whatever else one can say about his son Andrew, it appears that the current governor of the Empire State doesn’t suffer from the same malady. Any doubts about his intention to run for president in 2016 were dissipated yesterday with a state of the state speech that was a shopping list of liberal talking points and causes aimed at shoring up the governor’s standing with left-wing activists who are the core of the Democratic Party base.
Pandering to the left is always smart politics in a Democratic primary nomination race. Cuomo’s histrionics about guns, global warming, the minimum wage and abortion were exactly what he needs to establish his credentials with liberal donors and those who will be doing the bulk of the voting in Democratic contests that will be held three years from now. But the left-wing laundry list he enunciated yesterday in Albany is not without its risks. Even in a contest that is likely to be one in which the entrants will compete for the affection of liberal interest and constituency groups, the central theme of American politics in the next few years is likely to center on the question of how to deal with the deficit. But, as even a sympathetic article in the New York Times about his speech pointed out, there doesn’t appear to be any conceivable way that the state can pay for all of the new programs and government handouts Cuomo wishes to implement. Seen in this light, his manifesto shows exactly how the nation got in the mess that the president and Congress have been fighting about. This sort of stuff may generate applause in New York, but is the country really ready for another round of taxing and spending that Cuomo wants to initiate?
In lurching so strongly to the left, Cuomo also opened himself up to charges of being as big a flip-flopper as Mitt Romney. That’s because Cuomo ran for governor promising to bring a state that had been wrecked by the spendthrift policies of his Democratic and Republican predecessors back to fiscal sanity and then attempted to govern in that manner during his first two years in office. Cuomo’s moderate style, coupled with his willingness to reach across the aisle to Republicans in the legislature, was both popular and effective. But he and his advisors clearly think the kind of good government style that Americans keep telling pollsters they want isn’t the right formula to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Instead of fiscal sense, Cuomo now offers the public liberal patent nostrums, such as more gun control in a state where it is already difficult to legally own a firearm, a higher minimum wage guaranteed to decrease the number of entry level jobs in a time of high unemployment, solar energy subsidies that could repeat the Solyndra fiasco on a state level, and more spending on a host of other issues designed to appeal to liberal sensibilities without much talk about how to pay for it.
Cuomo thinks by establishing himself as the progressive in the race he can’t be outflanked on the left by any other candidate in 2016, and he may be right on that. But even Democrats are aware that the country is going bust. One imagines that Vice President Biden, who is attempting to burnish his image these days as a man who is making deals to fix the budget crisis rather than make it even worse, is taking notes about Cuomo’s speech that could skewer the younger Cuomo in a potential match up.
After yesterday, no one is likely to call Andrew Cuomo another Hamlet, but neither will they ever tag him as the sort of Democrat who is part of the solution to the country’s problems rather than the kind who got us into the current mess.