Rodney King plaintively asked, in the midst of one of the L.A. riots, “Can’t we all just get along?”
In my lifetime I have wandered the political landscape. I was born into a family of Libertarians and Republicans with strongly held political views. The Libertarian side was particularly interesting since they saw political chicanery and outright anti-Americanism behind every fence post. The interesting thing about those views is that many of them, the chicanery primarily, proved to be dishearteningly accurate over time.
By turns throughout my life I have been a Conservative, a liberal (small “l”), a pseudo-socialist and a wishful anarchist who believes in the rule of law. I have been both a card-carrying Republican and Democrat dependent upon time and place.
I have wandered the American landscape having lived on the East Coast, in the South and the Midwest.
My point being, not as a boast, but as a reference: Been there, done that. I will not write about things I do not have an understanding of, save one; I have not a clue about the illogic that drives us.
In answer to Rodney King’s eloquent question: No sir, we never have and unto our end of days, never will.
I met several presidents, and with two with had more than a nodding acquaintance. I have known a raft of Senators and a few Governors and a ton of wannabes. Throughout all those men I have only known two who had the people they served at heart. They occupied conjoined spaces at the same time. They both had humble beginnings and were creatures of their own devising. They were Mario Cuomo and Edward I. Koch, bitter political rivals.
Cuomo once ran for Mayor and was defeated by Ed Koch. It was a brutal, dirty campaign and each never got over it.
Koch had an ego the size of the Empire State Building and an endless need for public affirmation of his position, asking anyone and everyone, “How’m I doin’?” He was an unlikely star; homely, aggressive, arrogant and full of chutzpah, but all of it was driven to serve the city he loved and was determined to save, at a time when it needed saving.
His office held the desk of Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor of the city through the Depression. It is a massive piece of furniture. Koch stood behind in and basked in the reflected glory of that icon from another time and I asked, “Where’s your chair?”
Koch harrumphed and replied, “LaGuardia never sat at his desk. He worked standing up and so do I!” There may be something to that since standing desks are all the rage in parts of corporate America right now.
Ed Koch died in February, 2013. He is buried in Trinity Cemetery because he said he could not stand the idea of leaving Manhattan.
Mario Cuomo passed away in the first week of this year, and I for one, sincerely mourn the loss.
Cuomo, a three term governor of New York also could be arrogant and aggressive.
He was of peasant stock, a first generation American whose parents emigrated from southern Italy.
Physically, Cuomo looked just that. He had the brooding beauty of the men from that region. He was big, not fat. He had a large head with features to match, particularly his heavily lidded brown eyes that were by turns wide open pools to drown in or half-lidded pits of suspicion. His body was the result of generations of men accustomed to physical labor. Large, stout limbs, big hands combined with the lithe moves of an athlete, which he had been earlier in his life.
His voice carried the resonance of an opera singer and he used it to the effect of being the finest public speaker of his time.
He trusted no one outside his immediate family. His wife, Matilda was his sounding board. Nothing was ever mentioned for public consumption that had not been discussed with her, much to the frustration of his aides and party minions.
His keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention put him on the national political map.
Over time he was promoted, variously, for Vice President, President and the Supreme Court. He rejected them all to the consternation of his many supporters and admirers, me included.
Why do I regard him as an honest politician? Because he always, unfailingly put the welfare of the people he served before his own advancement. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk:
Throughout his life he supported the idea of the American Dream for the common man, one of whom he proudly proclaimed himself to be. He considered it an honor to be able to serve the people of his state.
He was an honest man and I will not see his likes again in my lifetime, of that I’m sure.
As so often happens in history, these two men came to power in New York at a crucial juncture. Their fierce dedication to the people they served was their first consideration, over self-interest or party affiliation.
I do not see that anywhere on the political landscape today. All the wannabe’s are full of vapid self-importance and self-interest. We should all be seriously concerned.
In this next election cycle we cannot afford be one-issue voters. Too much is in the balance. This country needs to find a center that will benefit the average citizen. As we all know, this is easier said than done. We cannot continue to let meanness and antagonism dominate our national conversation. It is simply too distracting from what is at stake for each and every one of us.