Mario Cuomo

Governor of New York from 1983 to 1994

Mario Matthew Cuomo (June 15, 1932January 1, 2015) was an American Democratic politician. He served as the 52nd Governor of New York for three terms, from 1983 to 1994, Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1979 to 1982; and Secretary of State of New York from 1975 to 1978.

We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship, to the reality, the hard substance of things.

Quotes edit

I have no plans, and no plans to plan.
We believe in a government strong enough to use words like "love" and "compassion" and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.

1984–1986 edit

  • It was anticipating self-defense.
    • On why he once hit a catcher in the face mask while playing minor league baseball, CBS TV (December 30, 1984).
  • I said I didn’t want to run for president. I didn’t ask you to believe me.
  • You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.
    • The New Republic (4 April 1985).
  • The mugger who is arrested is back on the street before the police officer, but the person mugged may not be back on the street for a long time, if ever.
    • Calling for hiring of more police
    • The New Republic (4 April 1985).
  • When you’ve parked the second car in the garage, and installed the hot tub, and skied in Colorado, and wind-surfed in the Caribbean, when you’ve had your first love affair and your second and your third, the question will remain, where does the dream end for me?
    • Commencement address at Syracuse University, quoted in The New York Times (12 May 1986).
  • I’d say, “That’s it, Charlie, you’re going to be by yourself for a hundred years.”
    • Favoring life sentences without parole instead of capital punishment, as quoted in Time (2 June 1986).
  • I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.
    • Time Magazine (2 June 1986).
  • If you can manipulate news, a judge can manipulate the law. A smart lawyer can keep a killer out of jail, a smart accountant can keep a thief from paying taxes, a smart reporter could ruin your reputation — unfairly.
    • NBC TV (12 August 1986).
  • I have no plans, and no plans to plan.
  • I told them that my grandfather had died in the Great Crash of 1929 — a stockbroker jumped out of a window and crushed him and his pushcart down below.
    • On meeting with a group assembled by David Rockefeller, The New York Times (14 September 1986).
  • Lincoln isn’t a man with ingrown toenails, he’s an idea.
    • On reading a biography of Lincoln that “showed me the warts”
    • The New York Times (14 September 1986).

1991–2006 edit

  • Every time I've done something that doesn't feel right, it's ended up not being right.
    • As quoted in In God's Care : Daily Meditations on Spirituality in Recovery (1991) by James Jennings and Karen Casey
  • People expect Byzantine, Machiavellian logic from politicians. But the truth is simple. Trial lawyers learn a good rule: 'Don't decide what you don't have to decide.' That's not evasion, it's wisdom.
    • As quoted in The Quotable Politician (2003) by William B. Whitman, p. 25
  • There are few things more amusing in the world of politics than watching moderate Republicans charging to the right in pursuit of greater glory.
    • As quoted in The Nastiest Things Ever Said about Republicans (2006) by Martin Higgins, p. 131

Address at Iona College (1984) edit

Commencement Address at Iona College (3 June 1984), as quoted in Lend Me Your Ears Great Speeches in History (1992) by William Safire, p. 932-936
  • Most of us have achieved levels of affluence and comfort unthought of two generations ago.
    We've never had it so good, most of us.
    Nor have we ever complained so bitterly about our problems.

    The closed circle of materialism is clear to us now — aspirations become wants, wants become needs, and self-gratification becomes a bottomless pit.
    All around us we have seen success in the world's terms become ultimate and desperate failure.
  • Entertainers and sports figures achieve fame and wealth but find the world empty and dull without the solace and stimulation of drugs.
  • Tell me, ladies and gentlemen, are we the ones to tell them what their instructors have tried to teach them for years? That the philosophers were right.
    That Saint Francis, Buddha, Muhammad, Maimonides — all spoke the truth when they said the only way to serve yourself is to serve others; and that Aristotle was right, before them, when he said the only way to assure yourself happiness is to learn to give happiness.
  • How simple it seems now. We thought the Sermon on the Mount was a nice allegory and nothing more. What we didn't understand until we got to be a little older was that it was the whole answer, the whole truth. That the way — the only way — to succeed and to be happy is to learn those rules so basic that a shepherd's son could teach them to an ignorant flock without notes or formulae.
  • Do we have the right now to tell them that when Saint Francis begged the Lord to teach him to want to console instead of seeking to be consoled — to teach him to want to love instead of desiring to be loved — that he was really being selfish? Because he knew the only way to be fulfilled and pleased and happy was to give instead of trying to get.
  • How do we tell them that one not be discouraged by the imperfection of the world and the inevitability of death and diminishment. How do we tell them when they lose a child, or are crippled, or know that they will themselves die too soon — that God permits pain and sickness and unfairness and evil to exist, only in order to permit us to test our mettle and to earn a fulfillment that would otherwise not be possible?
  • How can we tell our children that — when we have ourselves so often cried out in bitter despair at what we regarded to be the injustice of life — and when we have so often surrendered?
  • Do you blame me, ladies and gentlemen, for being reluctant to deliver to them the message that is traditional on commencement day?
  • I've been taking a closer look at these graduates. They are actually taller, stronger, smarter than we were, smart enough maybe to take our mistakes as their messages, to make our weaknesses their lessons, and to make our example — good and not so good — part of their education.
  • Indeed, as I think about it, I have to conclude that these young people before me today are the best reason for hope that this world knows.
  • I would like to tell them, the graduates, all of this, and I know that if we thought they would not be embarrassed by hearing it, we would all be telling them about how proud we are of them and how much we believe in them and their future. But again maybe we don't have to tell them; maybe they know. Maybe they can tell just by seeing the love in our eyes today.

Democratic National Convention Address (1984) edit

Democratic National Convention Keynote Address (16 July 1984) (full audio)
  • We speak for millions of reasoning people fighting to preserve our environment from greed and from stupidity.
  • If he had told the voters in 1980 that truth, would American voters have signed the loan certificate for him on Election Day? Of course not! That was an election won under false pretenses. It was won with smoke and mirrors and illusions. And that's the kind of recovery we have now as well.
  • We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship, to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do it not so much with speeches that sound good as with speeches that are good and sound; not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as with speeches that will bring people to their senses.
  • We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need.
    We believe in a government that is characterized by fairness and reasonableness, a reasonableness that goes beyond labels, that doesn't distort or promise to do things that we know we can't do.
    We believe in a government strong enough to use words like "love" and "compassion" and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.
    We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.
  • We believe as Democrats, that a society as blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world's history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction, ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute. And we proclaim as loudly as we can the utter insanity of nuclear proliferation and the need for a nuclear freeze, if only to affirm the simple truth that peace is better than war because life is better than death.
  • We believe in a single fundamental idea that describes better than most textbooks and any speech that I could write what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings — reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.
  • We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another, that the problems of a retired school teacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child — that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our struggle; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.
  • I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.
    • About his father

Religious Belief and Public Morality (1984) edit

"Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective", speech, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (9 September 1984)
  • I can offer you no final truths, complete and unchallengeable. But it's possible this one effort will provoke other efforts — both in support and contradiction of my position — that will help all of us understand our differences and perhaps even discover some basic agreement.
    In the end, I'm convinced we will all benefit if suspicion is replaced by discussion, innuendo by dialogue; if the emphasis in our debate turns from a search for talismanic criteria and neat but simplistic answers to an honest — more intelligent — attempt at describing the role religion has in our public affairs, and the limits placed on that role.
    And if we do it right — if we're not afraid of the truth even when the truth is complex — this debate, by clarification, can bring relief to untold numbers of confused — even anguished — Catholics, as well as to many others who want only to make our already great democracy even stronger than it is.
  • I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or non-believer, or as anything else you choose.
    We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might some day force theirs on us.

    This freedom is the fundamental strength of our unique experiment in government. In the complex interplay of forces and considerations that go into the making of our laws and policies, its preservation must be a pervasive and dominant concern.
  • Almost all Americans accept some religious values as a part of our public life. We are a religious people, many of us descended from ancestors who came here expressly to live their religious faith free from coercion or repression. But we are also a people of many religions, with no established church, who hold different beliefs on many matters.
    Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus.
    That those values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.
  • I think it's already apparent that a good part of this Nation understands — if only instinctively — that anything which seems to suggest that God favors a political party or the establishment of a state church, is wrong and dangerous.
    Way down deep the American people are afraid of an entangling relationship between formal religions — or whole bodies of religious belief — and government. Apart from constitutional law and religious doctrine, there is a sense that tells us it's wrong to presume to speak for God or to claim God's sanction of our particular legislation and His rejection of all other positions. Most of us are offended when we see religion being trivialized by its appearance in political throw-away pamphlets.
    The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.

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