Reflecting on Cooper Union

I want to add just a bit to my notes and and to Stephen Spruiell’s report on the Cooper Union event with Newt Gingrich and Mario Cuomo Wednesday evening (Steve adds a few notes to his report here). Steve makes the case that Newt’s appearance conveyed his interest in running for president; I skipped a step and urged Newt to resist the temptation. Steve was impressed with Newt’s performance; I had the impression that I’d heard much of it before and that it mostly demonstrated Newt’s peculiar strengths as a political intellect.
In certain respects, however, I was disappointed by Newt’s presentation. Newt proclaimed aspects of government and policymaking “broken” and asked two or three times, “Where are the hearings?” He seemed to be referring to congressional hearings, though that was not entirely clear to me. It was a little like calling for the appointment of a national commission to address a difficult issue — not exactly a bold proposal.
But “hearings” under the current distribution of power in the legislative branch would be run by Democrats. It is difficult to conceive of any problem that might usefully be addressed or mitigated at present through a congressional hearing, and my preference would be to call for fewer hearings rather than more.
By contrast with Newt, Governor Cuomo was something else again. In my notes yesterday I cited his 1984 keynote speech at the Democratic convention in San Francisco as the source of the economic component of his Cooper Union presentation. Governor Cuomo seemed to have forgotten nothing and to have learned nothing in the intervening 23 years. He mocked supply-side economics on the ground that if its axiom regararding the virtues of tax cutting were true, then the tax rate should be reduced to zero. It was difficult to determine whether his argument was ignorant, malicious or both.
On foreign policy, Governor Cuomo dialed up 1972 on the Wayback Machine and urged a McGovernite bugout in Iraq. Indeed, he implored the audience to read the new book by George McGovern and William Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan For Withdrawal Now. Governor Cuomo did not reflect on the aftermath of our abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975 to rethink the implications of a pullout of Americans from Iraq, implying that things could get no worse than they are now.
This was one point in the “dialogue” where the format really proved useful. Newt urged Democrats, if they are serious, to exercise the power of the purse and terminate funding of the war effort. If I heard him correctly (and I think I did) Governor Cuomo responded that the Bush administration would circumvent such a funding cutoff by the device of deficit spending. (Why didn’t the Ford administration think of that?) It was a revealing moment.


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