Gov. Mario M. Cuomo remarks at The Omega Society

Remarks
of
Governor Mario M. Cuomo
at
The Omega Society
Sheraton New York
April, 2005
New York City

 

A Meditation on Ultimate Values

When I was asked by a representative of Omega to give the closing remarks following the galaxy of distinguished individuals you have already heard, I said I probably could not add much to the intelligent, subtle and splendid articulations that they were sure to deliver.

The representative said “You probably can’t, but as a former three-term governor and still active political voice, you may be able to tell us something about how politics and government might affect our search for meaning, truth and a sustainable future.” 

“That input” – he said – “could be especially relevant given the frightening implications of 9/11 and other current calamities.”

# # #

I agreed to try.

Actually, I attempted to do something similar some years ago when we were in the midst of another troubling period that created greater than usual uncertainty, agitation and anxiety.  Another period when people’s search for meaningfulness intensified.

On that occasion the title of the conference was “Who (or What) is God?” with “God” being the undefined and undefinable label given to ultimate meaning and direction.

# # #

I addressed the question then, as I do now, certainly not as a scholar, or a theologian, or an apologist, but as an ordinary New Yorker—from Queens, from asphalt streets and stickball, from a poor and middle-class neighborhood—who made a living, helped raise a family, and found his way, somewhat improbably, into the difficult world of politics.

I do it as a person who struggles to keep a belief in God that he inherited; a Catholic raised in a religion closer to the peasant roots of the simple Sunday mass practitioners than to the high intellectual traditions of the Talmudic scholars, elegant Episcopalian homilists, or abstruse Jesuit teachers.

The simple folk of South Jamaica, Queens, who came from the tenements and attached houses on Liverpool Street, perceived the world then as a sort of cosmic basic training course, filled by God with obstacles and traps to weed out the recruits unfit for eventual service in the heavenly host.

The obstacles were everywhere.  The prevailing moral standard was almost impossibly high:  if you liked it, it was probably a sin, if you liked it a lot it was probably a mortal sin.

Their fate on earth was to be “the poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears,” until by some combination of grace and good works—and luck—they escaped final damnation.

For many, if not most of them, their sense of who or what God is was reflected in the collective experience of people who through most of their history had little capacity to learn from the exquisite musings of philosophers and theologians, and little chance to concern themselves with helping the poor or healing the world’s wounds.

They were the poor, the wounded.

It was a cold voice these people heard from God on Beaver Road, next to a cemetery across the street from St. Monica’s Catholic Church, where a famous ex-jockey, one of the homeless winos, froze to death sleeping in a large wooden crate. 

No doubt there were others in America – millions indeed – who felt content with the world as they found it.

But for most of the people in my old neighborhood, it was hard to see God’s goodness in the pathetic faces of the customers in our small grocery store who pleaded with my father for bread, and maybe some cold cuts—till the next relief check came in.

It got harder still, during and after the Second World War, when the best we could say about victory was that the new terror was put down… for a while.

And a gold star in a window announced that someone’s son had been killed, his mother’s prayers at St. Monica’s never answered.

It was hard for them to believe God spoke at Hiroshima either.

Who could blame these people for feeling that if God was not dead, he must surely be looking in another direction?

Others reveled in what they believed was the cultural liberation and enlightenment of the sixties, but for most of the people of Saint Monica’s the sixties were remembered for Vietnam and the sadness memorialized by Simon and Garfunkel: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio—our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?  Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”

No more John F. Kennedy, no more Martin Luther King.  No more Bobby Kennedy.  Nothing to believe in.  Nothing to grab hold of.  Nothing to uplift us.

# # #

People weren’t asking “Who is God?”  They were asking… “Is there a God?”

The same question many were asking after 9/11 and after a preemptive war in Iraq in the name of liberation, that killed more than 40,000 human beings, most of them innocent civilians; and after Rwanda and the grotesquely lethal tsunami.

The same question many ask today when a child dies in a crib—inexplicably.

Many of us find a way to go forward resigned to a world that has no answers to the biggest questions.

# # #

For some of us however the burden becomes intolerable; the absurdity of a world without explanation is almost too much to live with.

Our intellects push to find a rationale, an excuse… anything to take the place of despair… some fundamental belief or belief system, some dominant purpose in life—an absorbing activity, a benign crusade, a consuming passion for romantic sex, or music or art, something larger than ourselves to believe in.

If the answer cannot be compelled by our intellect, we plead for an answer that, at least we could choose to believe without contradicting that intellect.

We yearn for more than just a God of prohibition.  More than just a God of guilt and punishment.

More than John Calvin’s chilling conclusion that God loves Jacob but hates Esau. 

For us, it must be a God like the one that was promised in the New Testament: a God of mercy, a God of peace, a God of hope.

In the end, to make any sense, it must be a God of love!

# # #

Mostly, we want a God because we sense that the accumulating of material goods and the constant seeking to satisfy our petty appetites – for a flash of ecstasy or popularity or even temporary fame – is nothing more than a desperate, frantic attempt just to fill the shrinking interval between birth and eternity with something!

# # #

In my old neighborhood, despite the doubts, the simple and sincere preachments of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, and the prodding of uneducated parents whose moral pleadings and punishments were as blunt and tough as the calluses on their hands, were still given a degree of apparent respect.  Probably this was only because there seemed to be nothing more intellectually satisfying to put in their place.

# # #

In the fifties, some of us were suddenly gifted:  we were presented with the enlightened vision and profound wisdom of an extraordinary man.

A scientist, a paleontologist.  A person who understood evolution.  A soldier who knew the inexplicable evil of the battlefield.  A scholar who studied the ages.  A philosopher, a theologian, a believer.  And a great priest.

Teilhard de Chardin heard our lament, and he answered us.  He reoriented our theology and rewrote its language and linked it, inseparably with science.  His wonderful book “The Divine Milieu,” dedicated to “those who love the world,” made negativism a sin.

Teilhard glorified the world and everything in it.  He taught us to love and respect ourselves as the pinnacle of God’s creation to this point in evolution.  He taught us how the whole universe – even the pain and imperfection we see – is sacred.  He taught us in powerful, cogent and persuasive prose, and in soaring poetry.

He integrated his profound understanding of evolution with his religious understanding of the “Divine Milieu.”  He envisioned a viable and vibrant human future:  “We are all foot soldiers in the struggle to unify the human spirit despite all the disruptions of conflict, war and natural calamities.”

“Faith,” he said, “is not a call to escape the world, but to embrace it.”  Creation is not an elaborate testing ground with nothing but moral obstacles to surmount, but an invitation to join in the work of restoration; a voice urging us to be involved in actively working to improve the world we were born to—by our individual and collective efforts making it kinder, safer and more loving.  Repairing the wounded world, helping it move further and further upward to the “Pleroma,” St. Paul’s word for the consummation of human life.  The Omega point, when the level of consciousness and civility would eventually converge, having infiltrated the whole universe, elevated to the highest level of morality.  A new universe a peerless one; one we could help create by our own civilizing behavior.

# # #

Teilhard’s vision challenges the imagination but it has achieved sufficient scientific plausibility to be given cautious but respectful attention by celebrated intellectuals like Robert Wright a scientist and a declared agnostic.  (See his book “Nonzero:  The Logic of Human Destiny.”)

# # #

Actually, I would have been less influenced by Teilhard’s exquisite and moving enlightenment if I thought it was reserved for people like Robert Wright who are equipped to understand the scientific complexities and nuances that he weaves through his theology.

In fact, if one looks closely, some of the most fundamental of Teilhard’s principles are equally available to me and to all rational human beings whatever their level of formal education.

They are instructions of what has come to be called “natural theology” or the “natural law,” which is to say they can be ascertained by using evidence that is there for all of us to see and feel with nothing more than the gift of consciousness and exposure to the world around us. 

Without books or history, without saints or sermons, without instruction or revelation, three things about our place in the world should occur to us as human beings.

The first is that the greatest gift we have been given is our existence, our life and the power to help procreate.

The second is because as humans with the gift of consciousness we are unique parts of creation – sharing the same principal needs, desires and threats against us – our intelligence inclines us to treat one another with respect and dignity.

The third is the inclination to work together to protect and enhance the life we share. 

The Hebrews, who gave us probably the first of our monotheistic religions, made these ideas the foundation of their beliefs.  Tzedakah is the principal that we should treat one another as brother and sister, children of the same great source of life.  And Tikkun Olam is the principal that instructs us to join together in repairing the world.

Rabbi Hillel pointed out that these two radiantly logical principals together make up the whole law.  “All the rest,” he said, “is commentary.”

Jesus confirmed it was also the whole law for Christians.  “The whole law is that you should love one another as you love yourself for the love of truth and the truth is God made the world but did not complete it; you are to be collaborators in creation.”

I know of no religion recognized in this country—God-oriented or not—that rejects these ideas.

# # #

If then, as seems to be the case, politicians today are looking for guidance from religions in learning how to create a sustainable future or looking for the best wisdom to govern by, day-to-day, the answer is apparent:  To deal effectively with our problems and to make the most of all our opportunities, we must understand, accept, and apply one fundamental, indispensable proposition.  It is the ancient truth that drove primitive people together to ward off their enemies and wild beasts, to find food and shelter, to raise their children in safety, and eventually to raise up a civilization.

Now, in this ever more complex world, we need to accept and apply the reality that we’re all in this together, like a family, interconnected and interdependent, and that we cannot afford to revert to a world of us against them.

It is the one great idea that is indispensable to realizing our full potential as a people.

This is true whether we are considering the sharing of the wealth in the economy of the richest nation on earth; deciding what we must do to relieve the economic and political oppression of people all over the world, or deliberating over how to join in protecting millions of Africans against the ravages of AIDS or the barbarism of war lords.

# # #

Each of us is presented with a choice to act or not to act in a way that will move the world in a different and better direction.  A brilliant agnostic Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes echoed Teilhard’s call for the vigorous involvement of all of us in the management of the world around us and added a warning.  He said:  “As life is action and passion we are required to share the passion and action of our time at the peril of being judged not to have lived.”

Teilhard would have augmented Holmes’ remarks with his promise of glorious attainment.  “The day will come when after harnessing the wind, the mind, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and on that day for the second time in the history of man we will have discovered fire.” 

I wish I had a recording right now of a lot of people’s one favorite piece of music.

Reflecting on Teilhard’s vision and importunings, it’s easy to hear in the background Beethoven’s wonderful message to humanity which was his 9th Symphony.

With it’s unforgettable ending….

The single moral principle he wanted to share was the need to see the world as a family.  Listen to it again.  It begins dark and threatening; disaster and confusion loom because of clashes of will, misunderstanding and alienation.  It moves into the frenetic hunt for resolution seeking an answer that will comfort and reassure humanity.

Then in the final movement it swiftly presents again the initial picture of disunity and discord, only to dissolve into the Ode to Joy, using the words of Friedrich Von Schiller’s poem, ending in ecstatic jubilation – the chorus rejoicing at the convergence of the world’s people through maturity, brotherhood … and love!

Simple, and simply wonderful!

Conclusion

So, “Who or What is God?”

I have grown old enough to understand the vanity of trying to define fully the infinite and eternal.

But I also understand that I’m not required to eliminate any possibilities just because my intellect is not acute enough to make them irresistible.

In the end, I can choose to believe – and call it “faith” if I must – if that promises me meaningfulness.

So, it may not be easy to understand Teilhard or believe that God commits us to the endless task of seeking improvement of the world around us, knowing that fulfillment is an eternity away.

But it’s better than the anguish of fearing futility.

Better than the emptiness of despair.

And capable of bringing meaning to our most modest and clumsy efforts.

That’s a useful consolation for any of us still struggling to believe.

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Gov. Mario M. Cuomo — The National Press Club

Governor Mario M. Cuomo

The National Press Club

Washington, D.C.

January 7, 2003

For the last two years our politics have been dominated by the traumatizing effects of 9/11 and the confrontation with Iraq which the President dramatically linked to the war on terrorism.

Last year the tension increased when the President declared that Iraq, North Korea and Iran were the world’s “Axis of Evil” then warned that the United States might make a preemptive attack against anyone we regarded as dangerous . . . but only in the name of peace.

Now we are on the brink of a war with Iraq and both North Korea and Iran have reacted by re-invigorating their own nuclear capacities, also in the  name of peace.

Meanwhile, terrorism is escalating world-wide as anti-American sentiment reaches dangerous levels of hostility in the Arab lands  and beyond.

After 9/11 the nation rallied around the President in a powerful show of support that expressed our anxiety and our eagerness to strengthen the President’s hand in the war against terrorism.

At home however, the preoccupation with terrorism and Iraq allowed our domestic condition to wither.

Today the economy is weak, not because we lack investment capital but because businesses are simply not doing enough business. 

More than 70% of our economy depends upon our many millions of consumers but their resources continue to be depleted by unemployment and overloaded credit cards.

In two years the Federal government has gone from the largest budget surpluses in our history to hundreds of billions of dollars of annual deficit.       

At the same time states, cities and counties are anticipating their worst financial crises since the Great Depression, with as much as $100 billion dollars of their own deficits next year.  That will mean local tax increases; another solid punch to the already heavily pounded stomach of our sagging economy.

The increase in oil prices and the uncertainty created by imminent war also chill economic activity.

Our government has virtually ignored a number of other serious weaknesses that are further stifling our nation’s productive capacity, and dangerously fragmenting our population.

  • More than eight million Americans have lost their jobs: three-quarters of a million don’t have unemployment benefits.
  • Only one-in-five of our two hundred million workers are high-skilled. The other approximately 160 million workers hobbled by inadequate education, earn only modest wages. 

Their living conditions are worsening because the costs of everything they need most ― housing, healthcare, education ― are growing much faster than their wages.  

  • This has widened what is already the widest wealth gap in the industrial world. The thin band of super rich Americans grows richer, the large middle-class slips and struggles not to slide backward, and beneath them thirty-three million other Americans languish in poverty, although many of them are working full time.
  • More than eleven million of the poor are children-at-risk of inadequate education, joblessness, homelessness and abuse of all kinds. Some of these children grow up familiar with the sound of gunfire before they’ve ever heard an orchestra play.
  • More than forty-one million Americans – 6 million more than a decade ago – are not poor enough for Medicaid, old enough for Medicare or fortunate enough to have a health insurance plan, with health care costs soaring further out of reach. This means that workers suffering serious illness — like women struck by breast cancer, or men with prostate cancer ― will receive treatment but will probably be bankrupted, impairing further their productivity ― and the rest of their life.
  • We have also failed to deal in any meaningful way with the need to protect our Social Security and Medicare funds.
  • Our absurd dependence on foreign oil — condemned by Presidents from Jimmy Carter on — continues without so much as a decent attempt at conservation. And the environment around us deteriorates as the Bush administration denies the threats of global warming, contaminated waters and vanishing wildernesses. 

 

With all these problems why didn’t the Democrats do better last November?

Probably because we virtually ceded to the Republicans the issues of terrorism and Iraq, and did not make a vigorous enough case on the domestic issues, especially the economy and the President’s tax cut plan.

We Democrats will have to do better on both counts to restore ourselves to power in 2004.

And I think we can, if we communicate more clearly the concerns and needs of most Americans.

I believe if a solid majority of the American people were as informed about all that is going on in Washington as the people in this room today, and had a chance to speak directly to our leaders, they would say something like this:

“Let’s not waste time on the simplistic arguments about ‘Big Government’ or ‘Little Government’: we agree with Abraham Lincoln, ‘We should have only the government we need but all the government we need.’” 

“And let’s not rely on shorthand labels like “right wing conservative,” and “left wing liberal,” which distort complex positions on complicated subjects.  Instead, let’s be more specific about the issues in question and clearer about your particular positions.  And let’s start by discussing Saddam Hussein, terrorism, war, the economy, tax cuts, healthcare and the other things we talk about at home.”

“The country is with you, Mr. President in your commitment to de-fang Saddam Hussein and to defeat Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and all terrorist groups. 

“But war in Iraq would kill a lot of people, many of them American.  It could destroy much of Iraq’s infrastructure,  make the task of democratizing the country more difficult and further destabilize the region. 

It would surely provoke more anti-American terrorism as the radical Islamists note the difference between the way we deal with Muslim Iraq and non-Muslim North Korea, notwithstanding North Korea poses a much greater potential nuclear threat.”

It wouldn’t be a war that ends violence: it would be a war that invites violence, especially against our country.

“The best victory, Mr. President… for you and our nation… would not be in winning a destructive war over a weaker opponent, but in getting rid of Saddam Hussein without a war – through intelligence, wisdom and political adroitness. 

We know you’re aware of this, Mr. President:  Secretary Rumsfeld has suggested a number of times the possibility of a regime change by working out some kind of exile situation with the cooperation of some of our Arab friends.

However you do it, if you could get rid of Saddam and the threat he poses without all the death, destruction and new hostility a war would create – it would be a real triumph of powerful and enlightened leadership.  It would instantly relieve the anti-American tension and hostility around the world… and even provide a quick leap forward in the stock market.

It would give you a glorious legacy and make you one of the most popular Presidents in our modern history. 

One other thing Mr. President, we know that the war against terrorism will never end in a pact or parade: it will be more like the war against crime . . . fought every day.”   

“Saddam and the other terrorists are malignant, lethal tumors that must be removed.  But even if war is necessary to remove them, we must also try to root out the cancer that produced them because if we don’t, that cancer will produce more-and-more of them.  That’s what’s happening now in Israel and elsewhere.

What do we do about that, Mr. President?”

The President knows this question requires an answer but he has so far not given a strong one.  He has conceded that ignorance, oppression, poverty and lack of opportunity are causes that breed alienation and hostility, whether it’s a ghetto in the United States, or an Arab village in the Middle-East where these conditions can make people susceptible to terrorist networks. 

And he has noted that much of the Muslim hostility is fueled by radical Islamists who distort the Q’uran into an instruction that Western infidels must be destroyed and that suicidal terrorism is glorious. 

But so far the President has not done anything meaningful to correct the situation. 

Democrats should suggest that he try to enlist those who call themselves our friends in the Arab World — especially the wealthy Saudis — to stop financing madrasahs that teach the distortive and provocative interpretations of Islam which incite violence instead of promoting peace. 

And, as Colin Powell has suggested, the President should ask them to work with the United States and our other allies, supporting generously the economies of currently depressed Arab countries.

Democrats should also point out that the President was wrong last June to effectively withdraw from active participation in the negotiations to end the incessant killing going on in Israel.  We should urge the President to return as soon as possible to an all out effort to help the parties arrive at some kind of temporary cease fire, at least. 

Here too we should urge our Western allies and Arab friends to join in helping to provide the infrastructure and other wherewithal needed to create a successful economy in the new Palestinian state the President has promised.  They should start building the roads, energy and water systems, factories and residences that the Palestinians will need to make the desert bloom the way that Israelis have done.  Give Palestinians a motive to work toward peace: a Palestinian state without a viable economy is certainly no real inducement.

Peace and mutual security are vital to the Middle East, to us and to the rest of the world.  At the very least, tangible progress toward a separate state acceptable to the Palestinians would reduce Muslim hostility and terrorism.

On the domestic side, I think those clear-headed, common sense Americans would say to our political leaders something like the following:       

“At the same time that we are trying to make the world a better place, we cannot let our domestic condition continue to wither”. 

“All you politicians agreed to devote more resources to education.  You promised to ‘leave no child behind’ — then you didn’t leave enough money behind to improve their public schools and to help them get a college education.”

“And you promised to help people who desperately need health insurance and prescription drugs.  But then you said the nation can’t afford it.  Nor — according to you, can we afford to shore up Medicare and Social Security” 

“How do you justify that?”

“Your tax cut plan in 2001 gave up more than one-and-a-quarter trillion dollars of the nation’s capital.  Almost $500 billion of the total tax cut will go out over the next five years to a little more than one percent of all taxpayers — only about 1 million 250 thousand of the richest people in America get nearly $500 billion!”

“The plan was passed at a time when we were enjoying the largest Federal budget surpluses ever produced, left behind by the Clinton/Gore administration.  We were told by you Mr. President:  ‘We just don’t need the money, so let’s give it back.’”

“You were wrong Mr. President!  We need the money desperately.”

“Already this huge surrender of capital has helped devastate the Federal budget, replacing surpluses with deficits…“as far as the eye can see.” 

But you say $200 billion dollars to fight a war in Iraq is no problem.

“And today you’re telling us that you want to give more hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to those Americans who need them least.”

“Mr. President your proposal to remove taxes on dividends is just another way to help the already richest Americans.  It will do nothing to stimulate the economy:  what the economy needs is more people buying goods and services… more consumers.

“So, let’s do what common sense tells us to do.”  Let’s try harder to stimulate business, make our workers more productive, and avoid punishing tax increases all at the same time.”

“Hold off on still more tax cuts.”

“Defer the nearly $500 billion dollars in give-away tax cuts to the richest people in the country for a few years or so.  Tell them you are postponing the remaining portion of your 1.345 trillion dollar mega tax cut until you get the government’s business back to the annual surpluses you counted on when you decided on the cuts in the first place.”

“In the meantime, give different more economically productive tax cuts and help avoid dangerous tax increases at the state and local level.” 

“Remember, it’s not a lack of investors that’s hurting the economy — there’s plenty of investment money around — the problem is businesses’ failure to make profits — we need to get people to buy goods and services.”

“So instead of giving nearly $500 billion to the already richest 1.2 million Americans, give tax cuts to the hard-working millions of workers who are struggling because they can’t afford to buy all they need. 

Millionaires don’t need more spending money:  these workers do, and they will spend it buying goods and services and helping businesses.”

“These cuts would be stimulative to the economy besides being fairer to the Americans who need fairness the most.” 

“Mr. President, you accuse the people who disagree with your tax plan of class warfare.  Respectfully, Mr. President, it is class warfare, but you declared the war!  You created the 2001 plan and this new proposal that would give more than a trillion dollars to the already rich while leaving the vast majority of Americans struggling, without the education, healthcare, retirement benefits and environmental help we all agree they need.  They are just trying to defend themselves!

“Also you should give part of the nearly $500 billion to states and local governments as short-term revenue sharing for use in avoiding hurtful tax increases that would otherwise be imposed upon our economy. 

“And use the rest of the nearly $500 billion to keep your promises to aid education, health care, the environment, social security and Medicare.”

Finally, Democrats should talk to America about the basic principles that often get lost in the blizzard of numbers, shibboleths, arguments and political deceptions.

Democrats should remind America how we made ourselves a great nation.

America was born in outrageous ambition.

The deprived and the oppressed from all over the globe came here with little more than the desire to realize themselves.  In a little over two hundred years they built us into the most powerful nation on earth, a nation that has multiplied success generation-after-generation.

They did it by insisting on a market system and personal responsibility that make up the rock solid foundation on which our society was first built and has flourished.

But they also realized that we could not achieve greatness as a dog-eat-dog society of millions of disassociated individuals.  They recognized the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of us — as a nation and beyond.  So they supplemented the market system by having government contribute to the people’s education, healthcare and retirement security in order to enhance the productivity of American workers.

They made America great by coming together, sharing benefits and burdens, for the good of the whole nation

That’s not some glib slogan invented as the latest political conceit.

It’s history and it’s plain common sense, here and around the world:  as we invest in one another’s ability to be productive we increase the community’s wealth and we reduce its costly disorientations. 

And we also promote peace.

God forbid we should allow history to record that the best thing this generation did as a nation was to destroy enemies and win wars, instead of helping people help themselves earn a good life.

We know we can frighten people with our awesome military might: what we need to be sure of is that they will respect us for our wisdom and fairness as well.

The greatest human temptation is said to be the willingness to settle for too little.  It would be a particularly grievous sin for this great nation to give in to that seduction.  The good fate that endowed us above all nations, charges us with a greater mission.  We are the richest, freest, most technologically proficient and most powerful nation in world history.  There is no reason, other than our own unwillingness, that we cannot also be the best educated, most highly skilled, healthiest, fairest nation in the world ― and the most effective instrument for spreading prosperity and peace to the rest of the planet. 

We can be closer to what we ought to be, if we remember that we are all in this adventure together;  in our great nation and in this world.

I think most Americans would agree.

Thank you.

And Happy New Year!

Exclusive interview with Governor Mario M. Cuomo re: Andy O’Rourke

William O’Shaughnessy

Exclusive interview with

Governor Mario M. Cuomo

re:

Andy O’Rourke

January 4, 2013

WVOX & WVIP Worldwide

 

William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo … an old opponent of yours has gone to another – and we’re sure … a better world.  Andy O’Rourke ran against you for governor.

Mario Cuomo:

Bill, it’s very difficult to talk about Andy without sounding like you’ve made an effort to cover him as some kind of heroic figure.  I really do think he is – was – and always will be … in my memory – a heroic figure … because he was such a powerful coming together of good things.  His intelligence … his vision … his sense of humor … his sense of fairness … made all the political labels meaningless.  Liberals are supposed to be Democrats and business people are supposed to be Republicans … all of that.

It makes you feel once you meet and see what he is and see his goodness and his charm and see his intelligence … you say who needs categories, political categories?  Just get the best human beings you can to serve you as public servants.  He was a wonderful public servant because he was a wonderful human being.  He’s a great loss to Flora, his wife, and to his children.

WO:

Governor Cuomo … do you remember when he was running for governor against you … and he had that cardboard cut-out of Mario Cuomo?

MC:

Talk about sense of humor.  Early in the campaign between Andy and me … we had always gotten together. But we had a small “disagreement” for a time which required on my end that I not debate until the very last moment and he – bright man that he was – thought of a way to deal with that.  He had a cardboard cut-out made of me and it was a very good image of me … except it was considerably thinner than I was because it was just cardboard and he debated the cardboard figure. Now … I didn’t know that until – and I happened to be in Westchester on the first day he used it – I didn’t know it until the reporters came to me and said do you know Andy O’Rourke debated a cardboard figure of you … and I said, yes I know.  I told them he’s done it more than once and so far I’m told the cardboard figure won two out of three!

WO:

But wasn’t it because you were something like 1000 points ahead and said I don’t have to debate this guy.

MC:

No … it wasn’t that at all, O’Shaughnessy.  He said something about Andrew I didn’t like.  And I decided to punish him … but he punished me by debating the cardboard figure.  But then I put the cardboard figure on my side by saying he won two out of three!

WO:

Governor Cuomo … Andy O’Rourke was a Republican.  Mario Cuomo – as the world knows – is a Democrat.  How did you two get together. 

MC:

Those are not real distinctions, Bill.  And they shouldn’t be.  And I wish sometimes – frankly – I think one of the greatest errors made by our founding fathers was ignoring George Washington when he said two things.  First, that you should never allow a single person to declare war.  And so you should never start a war because the president of the United States asked for it.  That’s a ridiculous thing.  It’s ridiculous because the one person shouldn’t be in a position where a bad judgment could be horrible for us.  And he also said another thing.  He said we should not have political parties.   Why not?  Because as soon as you commit yourself to leftists or rightists … to this kind of person or that kind of person … you choose up sides and you pit them against one another.

He said there should be no parties.  And we didn’t listen to that.  And I think since he said that, we have had something like 176 parties.  And the parties do exactly what he projected they would.  And that is they would take a position which was contrary to the other side … because that’s the way it is served up to us, our politics.  And it’s foolish.  First of all, we don’t stay true to the labels because  there was a lot about Andy O’Rourke that wasn’t classical Republican.  And there was a lot about Mario Cuomo that wasn’t classical Democrat.  And so these silly labels – and they are silly labels.  And who says so?  George Washington.  Too bad we didn’t listen. 

WO:

Governor Cuomo … Andy O’Rourke helped your son build housing for the homeless here in Westchester when he was county executive.  Do you remember those days?  They both got ganged up on by the NIMBYs …

MC:

Yes … almost every time he did something notable … it was praiseworthy.   What was a Republican in Westchester doing helping Andrew build housing for poor Democrats who were mainly the kind of people who lived in those humble homes he was building? But Andy (O’Rourke) – bright and intelligent person that he was – looked up over the labels constantly.  If something was good he recognized it as good and he found something to do with it for our betterment.  And that’s what he did with Andrew and the housing projects.  It got him no votes.  Got him the irritation of a lot of Republicans in your area.  He would smile at that … make a joke and move on looking for another good thing to do.

WO:

Governor … finally … I wonder if there is a lesson.  Barack and Romney … Obama and Romney.  Clearly they hated each other.  O’Rourke and Cuomo ended up as friends.  Any lessons there?  Or has it gotten meaner?  Nastier?

MC:

Essentially you have to go back to George Washington again.  Washington made it very clear in simple language.  If you create parties … you are declaring that these two groups are different from one another and they should contend with one another.  And you will not find your best answers by letting them fight with one another … lie about one another.  And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since the people ignored him when they wrote the Constitution. 

WO:

Governor Cuomo … I hear it in your voice.  We’ve lost Andy O’Rourke here in Westchester.  Opponent that he may have been … I think you kind of liked the guy.

MC:

I liked him a whole lot.  I admired him.  And I should.  Andrew – my Andrew –  I’m sure will have nice things to say about him. Andrew O’Rourke and Andrew Cuomo.  Andrew Cuomo in the last poll got at least as many votes as a Republican as he did as a Democrat.  And it might even be that he got slightly more on the Republican line in the latest poll.  Now why is that?  It’s because Andrew Cuomo has been acting like Andrew O’Rourke at his best.  And I hope he keeps doing that.

WO:

Politics is a nasty business that only occasionally gets an Andy O’Rourke … and a Mario Cuomo.

MC:

O’Rourke was good, Bill.  O’Rourke was really good.  Mario Cuomo is not bad.  But I tell you … that cardboard cut-out was a winner!

WO:

You never forget, Mario.  Thank you, sir.

# # #

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Governor Cuomo.

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

914-235-3279

cindy@wvox.com

“Don’t Hush Rush …”

Originally Published March, 14, 2012

Howard Stern … Don Imus … Opie and Anthony … Lisa Lampanelli … Chris Rock … George Lopez … Kathy Griffin … Bill Maher … Roseanne Barr … Sarah Silverman … and George Carlin, of sainted memory.

We’ve always had terrible examples to defend.  And Rush Limbaugh has given us another stellar specimen of vulgar discourse.  But defend it we must.

Not the hateful, demeaning and discomfiting words.  But the right of our colleague – the social commentator – to be heard.  And the right of the people to decide.

Rush misfired.  But he should not be fired or denied his podium.

Here’s a baseball analogy.  Suppose you had a pitcher with remarkable stamina who, during the course of a long career threw some 8,000 innings.  Many of his pitches will miss the strike zone.  A few may even hit the poor batter.  And during those 8,000 innings spanning some 20 or 30 seasons, he may even bean the damn umpire!  But he’s still a great pitcher.

Rush Limbaugh forgot that the young woman from Georgetown – no shrinking violet she, who bemoaned the fact, for all the world to hear, that contraception costs some $1,300.00 annually – was someone’s daughter.

Her candid and sincere congressional testimony thus provoked Limbaugh’s unfortunate, regrettable and completely inappropriate attack which was all too personal and mean-spirited.

Rush Limbaugh is a performer, an entertainer, a provocateur, a social commentator, and, in his worst moments, a carnival barker for the hard right.  But the sanctimonious holier-than-thou campaign to destroy and silence him has an agenda that transcends the hurt feelings of one individual.

Phil Reisman, the brilliant and astute Gannett feature columnist, says it’s entirely appropriate to remind Rush that chivalry, respectful discourse and gentlemanly behavior still matter.  And I would sign up for that.

To be sure, in this whole dreary matter we’re confronted by a civility issue which is valid, necessary and altogether appropriate.  But the mission of the liberal sharks like Ed Shultz and other windbags who smell blood in the water, is not to address the wrong, but to drive Limbaugh off the air.

In other words, when you separate the civility, or lack thereof, from the politics, it’s all too clear that Limbaugh’s enemies are using this contretemps as a weapon to knock him off his platform – permanently.

It drives them – and us – crazy that Limbaugh represents a significant chunk of the Republican Party.  So, as Rockefeller Republicans, he’s not at all our cup of tea.  Over the years I’ve listened only very occasionally to his ranting and raving since the great Ed McLaughlin plucked Limbaugh from an obscure broadcasting station in Sacramento, California and gave him a national podium.

Truth to tell, if my friends at the New York Post had not already dubbed Alec Baldwin “The Bloviator,” I would suggest that appellation might be more appropriately applied to Mr. Limbaugh.

Like I said, Rush misfired.  And like that pitcher, he may have hit the poor umpire this time or some poor bastard behind home plate.  (Actually, he hit someone’s daughter!)  But he should not be fired … even if the whole cannon of his work is filled with raucous vulgarity and incendiary right-wing rhetoric directed at immigrants, illegal aliens and even presidents of the United States.

We broadcasters are ever alert to incursions against free speech from government bureaucrats.  But censorship from corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts is just as dangerous as the stifling of creative and artistic expression by government fiat, decree, sanction or regulation.

You don’t have to be a First Amendment voluptuary to realize this is just as treacherous as any racism, sexism, bigotry or vulgarity.

Let the S.O.B. be heard.   And trust only the people to censure him with a flick of the wrist and a changing of the dial.

I’m uncomfortable as hell about it.  But I’m with Limbaugh.

He makes his living with words.

The Townie Soapbox Orators

Originally Published August 8, 2012

Word came this morning of the passing of Ines Candrea.  You will not read of her life in the New York Times.  Around these parts she was known as the widow of the late Joe Candrea and mother-in-law of one Anthony Galletta.  Mrs. Candrea was 80 and I speak of her on this radio station because for so many of those 80 years she used WVOX as her own personal soapbox, as did her late husband.

And as we mourn Mrs. Candrea this day, our mind drifts back to her shy, modest, retiring husband who was cut from the same outspoken cloth.  And when he went to what Malcolm Wilson would call “another, and we are sure, a better world” on December 21st, 1999, we went into this studio and said these very words about the man:

“Joe Candrea was a Runyunesque figure.  But instead of Broadway or The Great White Way, his canvas was our home heath.  It was here in New Rochelle that Joe Candrea lived most of his years with great conviction.

He confronted every proposition and civic issue with a relentless passion.  Although his resume said “newspaper delivery man,” Joe Candrea could put power and energy into words, which usually became majestic proclamations.  His podium was behind this microphone, or on any street corner he could find.

He possessed what most of us search for all our lives.  There was a sureness to Joe Candrea’s proposals and observations.  He was the great articulator, the undiminished champion of the forgotten neighborhoods in the West End of our city.

The politicians used to call it the old Fourth Ward.  It is where Rocco Bellantoni once lived.  And Tony and Sal Tocci and the Fosinas came from there.  But in recent years there was only Joe Candrea to rage against injustices as they might be committed against his neighbors in the West End.

New Rochelle was his mistress.  And also his fortress.  He felt about our city the way some men of his generation look upon The United States Marine Corps or the Notre Dame football team.  Other callers and radio talk show hosts discuss with great erudition the cosmic issues of the day.  Theirs is an international curiosity or a national inclination, but Joe Candrea’s enthusiasms and passions extended only as far as the city limits.  Zip Code 10801 was his territory, baby, and don’t you forget it.

He ran flat out and went straight for everything.  There was no halfway station… no middle ground with the man…and never, ever a doubt about where he stood on civic issues, politicians, bureaucrats and other disreputable types.

He was all about building up the damn neighborhood.

Have I got it right, Joe?”

That was spoken for Joe Candrea, who, like I said, was the husband of one Ines Candrea who left us early this morning at 80.

There were other vivid townie orators who used this WVOX broadcasting station over the years as their own personal soapbox.  Back in the 60’s there was a brilliant, cerebral David Kendig who drove them nuts at city hall.  And Lorraine Trotta, whose son Frank is now a big-time lawyer in Greenwich and works with Lewis Lehrman who spent millions trying to become governor.  Our roster of townie callers in those days also included Bob Schaeffer, who called himself “The Neighborhood Watchdog” or was it “Junkyard Dog”?  Memory fails.  Bob weighed in on everything and everyone.  So did Ken from Pelham and Frank from Connecticut who used to be Frank from Mount Vernon.

Every day on our “Open Line” programs they were there opining, arguing, debating, raging, cajoling, attacking, occasionally even flattering and, on rare occasion, actually saying something nice about one of our neighbors.

Mario Cuomo once told me he prays for “sureness.”  Our callers never had that problem.  They brought a rock-solid, unshakeable sureness to most of their pronouncements.

Other stations had Scott Shannon, Imus or Howard Stern.  We had Mitch from the North End and Bruce the Swimmer, a Libertarian who … lived … his … life … the … way … he … damn … well … pleased.  And there was always, it seems, Mr. Cam, who demanded to be addressed just so.  But I’ll not leave this planet till I find out his regular, normal, human, given first name.  He’s gotta have one.

Day after day here on the radio there was Ann Witkowski, Peggy Godfrey, Mary Tedesco and a brilliant William Kirby Scollon, who was descended from the Kirbys of Rye, but became a New Rochelle “townie” in good standing.  He was a friend of Bill Mullen, no blushing violet he, who could also climb up on our soapbox.   Right out here with Mullen would be Dave from Mamaroneck, Joanne, Alex from Greenburgh and Michael Brown.  They could all talk.

Some of our regular callers were possessed of great insight and a few were even accompanied by a stunning intelligence concerning matters political.  One of the most brilliant was – and still is – Angela Scarano, who reveled in the moniker … “Nudge.”  She was.  And is.  In the best possible way.

Also we recall Anthony Galletta, the Candrea son-in-law, Charlie from the West End, Lorraine Pierce and don’t forget Bob, her husband.  And the late, great “Woody.”  That’s all … just “Woody.”  There was a Rae Rega and an Isabel.  And I have gone this far without mentioning the incomparable Carmine Saracino.  And Mrs. Green.

Actually, some of these “frequent” callers were so good (and so frequent) we couldn’t resist giving them their very own weekly shows:  Colonel Marty Rochelle, the Yonkers legend who never met a judge he doesn’t like.  Or a district attorney.  And Mike Scully, the world-traveler, who gets better every week.  But I wish he’d let me “enlighten”  him  on  the  great  issues.   I’ll bring  him  around.   Like

when Andrew Cuomo is sworn in … and Scully jumps off our 190 foot radio tower!  And Lou Felicione, who opines about everything New Rochelle when he’s not posting on Facebook.  He has his very own show too.  And Sam Spady.

Sometimes I’ve felt like taking a page from my friend – and mentor to us all – Bob Grant who, when he couldn’t abide it any more, would just scream into the microphone:  “Get off my phone!”  It was tempting, I should tell you.  But then the advice we received so many years ago from Alvin Richard Ruskin would break through all the cacophony,  noise,  dialogue  and  often  disagreeable  chatter.

Alvin Ruskin was mayor of New Rochelle back in the 60’s before Nelson Rockefeller made him a judge.  And one day he took me aside:  “Your damn station is gaining a national reputation … the Wall Street Journal called you ‘the quintessential community station in America’ … and so on.  And all that is well and good, O’Shaughnessy.  But don’t let it go to your head. And don’t forget the townies. They made you.  They’re the strength of your station … people with opinions.”

Judge Ruskin was a wise man then.  And he is to this day – retired, in his 90’s, and living in Stamford, Connecticut.

Like I said … other stations had Imus, Scott Shannon and Howard Stern.

We had Ines Candrea and Joe and all those other marvelous soapbox orators.

And with it all … there really was never a dull moment.

Have I got it right, Anthony …?