Keeping Faith


By Mario Cuomo

Simon & Schuster 191pp $21

When Mario Cuomo tunes in C-SPAN these days, he must wonder what planet he's on. Capitol Hill's Republican rulers view the New Deal he cherishes as the foundation for the evil welfare state. Eager revolutionaries are revamping Medicare while dismantling federal welfare and Medicaid programs.

Well, Cuomo, perhaps America's most articulate apostle of liberalism, has had enough. He has written a passionate book that combines an unapologetic defense of his beliefs with an economic manifesto for like-minded Democrats. In Reason to Believe, the ex-New York governor admits that top Democrats have been "no match for the Republican leaders....Without stronger and more persuasive voices raised in opposition, the incessant stream of glib and appealing shibboleths and generalities looks tempting to a lot of Americans."

Cuomo sees himself as just such a voice. Despite last year's election defeat, he is an ardent defender of government--at a time when many Democrats are scurrying away from FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. Of those programs, he writes: "To say they failed to improve upon the wretched social catastrophes created by the 150 years of macho individualism that preceded them would be foolish indeed."

Cuomo takes aim at Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. But he lays out an alternative agenda for reducing special-interest influence in politics and expanding federal "investments" in education, research, and small-business development.

Love him or despise him, Cuomo is an intellectual giant. The Democratic Party desperately needs a substantive voice to replace the sound bites and negativity that pass for public discourse today. Is an old-time defender of the faith the right person in his party's hour of need? Perhaps not. Cuomo admits his thinking "may seem like heresy" now. But it's natural for Democrats to be longing for a lost past. To quote one of Cuomo's favorite songs: "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"

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