Mario Cuomo is gone. We are left with a rich legacy, and his loud, hypocritical bully of a son. I was reacquainted with him last year, as Ken Burns uses his young sports dreams as emblematic of New York Italian-American identity in Baseball, which I finally got around to watching. To some extent he has to be compared (and contrasted) with Ted Kennedy. Liberal icons from the Northeast, who could of but did not end of being President. Both were active in a political era characterized by the gutting of labor and welfare. I preferred Cuomo’s personality and he’s my kind of politician. But both are now gone, and the players in American liberalism are relative newcomers.
Cuomo was probably the best high-ranking voice against the death penalty, with about a dozen yearly vetoes of bills introduced to bring back capital punishment in New York. His statement with the 1991 veto is perhaps the best succinct statement of why the death penalty is profoundly wrong:
“The death penalty legitimizes the ultimate act of vengeance in the name of the state, violates fundamental human rights, fuels a mistaken belief by some that justice is being served and demeans those who strive to preserve human life and dignity.”
Though I think British comedian Russell Brand is irritating most of the time, he’s shown an ability to write a nuanced and unique obituary. His earlier meditation on Amy Winehouse, where he used his troubled past to discuss the tragedy of addiction, has been followed up by a column that looked at Thatcher as a matriarch. Brand’s childhood coincided with Thatcher’s eleven years in power, so her philosophy of individualism rather than community became tied in with how that generation grew up.
The column features some substantial attacks on Thatcher’s record- not only her privatization and union-busting, but her indifference to apartheid South Africa and autocrats like Pinochet. However it also brings up the topic of celebrating someone’s death. The Iron Lady’s demise has been met with spontaneous celebration- particularly in Scotland where her reforms hit hardest.
But can you really celebrate the death of someone if they died old and feeble and pathetic, rather than the strong-arm prime minister who left office over twenty years ago? There was a time, perhaps, to celebrate and let loose. That was when she left Downing Street. Much like confronting a childhood bully, if they’re on dialysis and can’t defend themselves, is it really satisfying to beat them up?