Andrew Cuomo has been in the news lately — he’s brazening out a scandal or two. And my mind wandered back to 2000, when I wrote a piece about him: “Son of Mario: A Democratic prince.” Young people probably have to be told that Mario Cuomo was a very, very big deal in American politics. Fathers fade, sons rise.
In 2000, Andrew was HUD secretary — secretary of housing and urban development — under Clinton. Cuomo had two names going for him: his own and “Kennedy.” He was married to a Kennedy: Kerry, a daughter of Robert.
These were really potent names in Democratic politics, you have to understand.
“HUD is not exactly a glamour spot,” I wrote, “but Cuomo has made the most of it, politically.” Let me continue to quote:
He is very close to Al Gore, and one whisper has it that he could become the vice president’s running mate. If not that, chief of staff, in a Gore administration. If not that, governor of New York, after the 2002 election.
It took him a while to be elected governor of New York — until 2010.
Some more quoting, please:
Ask around about Cuomo, and you get strikingly common responses: bright, ambitious, proud, impressive, thin-skinned, aggressive, hard-hitting, thuggish, brutal. Seldom will a reporter do a story and find so much fear surrounding his subject. People — even his fans — are reluctant to talk about him, conscious of his power and wrath. “He can get you,” is something you often hear. “Vindictive son-of-a-bitch,” is a typical description.
A little more:
Then there is that temper — the Cuomo temper, one of the most fabled in Washington. Most insiders have a store of Cuomo-temper stories, some of them truly hair-curling. “Woe unto you if you get on Andrew’s bad side,” says one who has worked with him, and admires him. When it comes to temper, “he makes John McCain look like Winnie the Pooh.”
Today, McCain has other reputations, on left and right. Back then, he was known for — among other things — one whale of a temper.
Anyway, as I scan the stories about Andrew Cuomo today, I think: consistency.
• An article from the Associated Press makes a very good point about the politics of the moment. The article is headed “GOP struggles to define Biden, turns to culture wars instead.” It begins,
President Joe Biden and the Democrats were on the brink of pushing through sprawling legislation with an eyepopping, $1.9 trillion price tag.
But many Republican politicians and conservative commentators had other priorities in recent days. A passionate defense of Dr. Seuss. Serious questions about the future of Mr. Potato Head. Intense scrutiny of Meghan Markle.
Yes. This is where the juice is: the culture wars. They get the attention, the votes, and the clicks (believe me). I’m not sure that people want to hear about freedom and all that jazz. About hard work, personal responsibility, good government . . .
It’s all very yawny, isn’t it? And very yesterday.
Give people a hate-figure, though, and they really come alive — Meghan’s handy.
Possibly, I am being cynical, and possibly, I am being realistic. Some combination of the two? In any case, I bet you catch my drift (as we used to say in the ’70s).
• Currently, we are in dunking season, when it comes to Harry, Meghan, and the House of Windsor. Everyone has his dunks: Harry is a pathetic little fem (never mind his training at Sandhurst, his service in Afghanistan, etc.); Meghan is a conniving b****; the Windsors are pampered, racist, heartless robots. Dunkers gonna dunk. Hot-takers gonna hot-take.
As time passes, however, I think people will see this as a family tragedy and a human tragedy. Everyone hates the guy who can see both sides, or all sides: but I can sort of see where everyone in this drama is coming from (once again to use jargon from the 1970s).
I believe it is tragic, top to bottom.
• Did I say ’70s? William Safire once joked that someone should say to Nixon, “You know, Mr. President, you should take the easy route,” so that Nixon would be honest when he said — as he frequently did — “Some say I should take the easy route. But I say . . .”
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of pols say, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” I want to ask, “Who said you were?”
• It is only the second week of March. But I believe that a certain January 6 denialism has set in. So help me, I think of a phrase — the title of a book about Russia by David Satter: “It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway.”
We Americans should watch out for this.
• Did you see this story? “State Department aide appointed by Trump stormed the Capitol, beat police with a riot shield, FBI says.” Unbelievable (but not literally).
Here is a follow-up story. The first two paragraphs are extraordinary, or at least they are to me:
A former State Department staffer with a top-secret security clearance betrayed his oath of office when he joined the Capitol mob that attempted to subvert the electoral process on Jan. 6, a federal magistrate judge said Tuesday.
Quoting that oath, which requires federal workers and appointees to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Judge Zia M. Faruqui said that on Jan. 6, domestic enemies were striking “directly at the heart of our democracy” and Federico Klein “switched sides.”
“Switched sides” — words that “land.”
• I have spent a fair amount of my life studying Communist countries, or “non-consensual societies,” to borrow a phrase from Robert Conquest. “Fear societies,” Natan Sharansky calls them. You’re afraid to say anything — even to a family member, maybe. Even to your spouse. One word — the “wrong” word — can wreck your life.
What about our own country, the U.S. of A.? Check out an eye-popping report by Bari Weiss: “The Miseducation of America’s Elites: Affluent parents, terrified of running afoul of the new orthodoxy in their children’s private schools, organize in secret.”
• I recommend another piece, about Beth Moore. Her criticism of Donald Trump “turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.” Truly a tale of our times.
• While I’m recommending: Jeff Jacoby, in tribute to his late mother. What a wonderful writer Jeff is. (As you know, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Globe.)
• A video circulated, accompanied by these words:
Uber driver Subhakar told me he picked up 3 women in the Bayview yesterday & after asking one to wear a mask was subject to slurs, taunting & one grabbing his phone.
Thinking about this, Tom Nichols tweeted:
We are rapidly descending into decadence that defies political categorization and is really just civilizational decline. This is the result of years of peace and affluence — and a society that no longer values adulthood.
Bill Buckley once observed that you can say a lot on a bumper sticker: “Better Red Than Dead,” for example, or “Better Dead Than Red.” Tom proves that you can say a lot in a tweet, too.
• Roger Mudd, the TV newsman, has died. One of his great assets: his voice. What a great speaking voice, he had.
• Often, people are keen to tell me how much they dislike my columns and podcasts. And I think of Clive Barnes, the late theater and dance critic. He was a Londoner who spent the bulk of his career in New York. In a farewell column to readers, he said something like this: “The thing to do is, find a critic who’s on the same wavelength as you, and stick with him.”
There are many, many fish in the sea — and many, many clicks. Take yer pick!
• All of my life, I have been reading stories just like this:
The last native speaker of the so-called Bering dialect of the Aleut language, Vera Timoshenko, has died at the age of 93 in Russia’s Far Eastern Kamchatka region.
I used to consider the dying out of languages and dialects a tragedy. Something to mourn. They all must be preserved, you know! Ten, fifteen years ago, I changed my mind, pretty much. (When I was managing editor of National Review, I tried to commission a piece on this subject, without success.) In the history of man, there have surely been squillions of languages and dialects that we know nothing of. Have never heard of. Languages are tools of communication. They come and go (though the communication continues).
Another time, we can talk about the animal world and endangered species . . .
• While we’re talking of language: A few days ago, I was writing a music piece, and talking about Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist, and his playing of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. “I have always appreciated his lack of fuss in these pieces,” I wrote. “The lack of sentimentality, the absence of perfume.”
Oops. Nope. I caught myself. Sentimentality is good and right. The word I was looking for is . . . sentimentalism.
• End on music, all right? Some friends, individually, were nice enough to send me a Twitter thread — a marvelous thread — showing the use of classical music in the old-time cartoons: Bugs Bunny et al. Three thoughts, or observations, from me:
In Hollywood’s “golden age,” the town was full of refugees from Europe — most of them Jews — who knew and loved classical music. This music was as “normal” to them as air and water.
When Bruno Walter, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and Leonard Bernstein popularized Mahler in the 1950s and ’60s, a lot of people said, “Sounds like movie music!” Actually, movie music sounded like him. (Mahler died in 1911, incidentally) Why? Because the composers working in Hollywood worshiped the guy, understandably.
An anecdote: One day, Peter Ustinov is walking through the commissary of one of the studios. He comes to a table of men speaking Hungarian. He admonishes them, “You’re in America now. Speak German!”
Bless you, my friends, and see you later.
If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to firstname.lastname@example.org.