Many Democrats these days are thrilled, even to the point of smugness, about the state of their field of presidential candidates.
Not Mario Cuomo.
“I’m not satisfied that we have heard the candidates, on either side, be specific enough about the issues,” Mr. Cuomo said in a telephone interview from his offices at the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. “When was the last time you heard a full discussion by any of the candidates on how to fight the war on terrorism?”
That’s just one issue that Mr. Cuomo thinks the Democrats have come up short on. The former governor, who flirted with a presidential run in 1992 after becoming a national champion of the American left with his famous “Shining City on a Hill” speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, wants more specificity out of the Democratic front-runners.
He wants details on how to leaven the burdens of the middle class (a problem, he said, that even Aristotle wrestled with) and how to pursue energy independence and get out of Iraq. He thinks the Democrats, with the exception of John Edwards on issues relating to poverty and health care, are being intentionally vague to avoid alienating any potential voters.
“The syndrome I’m talking about affects all these people, they’re all doing it,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It’s not just Hillary. You can’t get Obama to be specific about a lot issues.”
“What they’re thinking is you have to win, and then you do it,” he added.
The problem with that approach, he said, is that it inhibits the ability to carry out a meaningful agenda once in office.
“Even if you win,” he said, “you will not get what you want because you will not have the leverage.”
Four months before the first primary vote is cast, it may seem premature to talk about mandates and governing. Mr. Cuomo acknowledges that, and thinks in particular that Rudy Giuliani, who endorsed him for governor in 1994, represents a serious challenge for the eventual Democratic nominee.
“I don’t know how you rule him out,” said Mr. Cuomo. “He has been at the top right straight through.”
The reason for Mr. Giuliani’s success this far, according to the former governor, is that his 9/11 hero status has been far more durable than any of the pundits predicted.
“People don’t want to give up their icons,” said Mr. Cuomo. He said the image of Mr. Giuliani trudging through the rubble and dusty air on Sept. 11 is an indelible image in the minds of Americans, and would withstand any concerns or controversy about “air quality,” or “picking the right place for a headquarters.” “They heard him, they saw him, they were inspired by him,” Mr. Cuomo said.
The way to get at Mr. Giuliani, he suggested, is by talking about his record before Sept. 11.
“Nobody is making the case against him,” said Mr. Cuomo. “If somebody made the case against him, on the record as mayor, that would change everything.”