Andrew Cuomo’s proclamation on Wednesday that “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great,” was doubtless a jab at President Trump. On the other hand, Cuomo’s 2014 All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, suggests the New York governor has a case of sorts. The son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo was mentioned as a running mate for Al Gore in 2000 and boasts experience as Housing and Urban Development boss under Bill Clinton.
“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, Al Gore wanted to slim down government, but the author explains, “I wanted to push a progressive agenda forward.”
The Democratic Party of the early 1980s 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.”
Furthermore, “blaming Reagan was correct but also was the simple answer.”
Clinton’s election generated renewed hope for “replacing the malaise brought on by twelve years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were the next generation. They made government cool again.” 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.
Cuomo quotes former HUD Secretary 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,” Cuomo explains, “that a central-government-knows-best approach rarely produces the best results.” In fact, “even the physical space at HUD was dysfunctional.”
As Cuomo recalls, Republicans talked a good game about abolishing HUD but never did so. The reign of Samuel Pierce, Reagan’s HUD secretary, was not 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.
Consider, too, Cuomo’s experience as New York governor.
More education funding, he explains, “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 in graduation rates, New York students ranked 32nd nationwide. Cuomo has nothing bad to say about teacher unions and favors government-funded charter schools, but they are “no substitute for a public education system.”
All Things Possible does not allow the possibility that students can choose the schools they attend, government 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 the flat tax “regressive.”
“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.”
When bureaucratic waste, fraud, and abuse become apparent, Cuomo gets angry. Unfortunately, the waste and incompetence inherent in the system does not change his vision in the slightest. In fact, as the author sees it, more dependency on government is the very thing the nation needs.
All Things Possible also shows 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. Democrats and Republicans alike 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 makes a strong case that dysfunctional government bureaucracy was never that great. Likewise, he fails to convince that an ever-expanding bureaucratic state is the surefire path to future American greatness. So at least he’s got that going for him.
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