Mary E. O’Leary , Register Topics Editor 04/16/2004
Mario Cuomo, the Democrats’ philosopher king, has some advice for the party’s presumed nominee for president: Get tough with Israel.
“You can’t ever make serious progress against terrorism unless you deal with Israel,” Cuomo said in a telephone interview this week, when asked for his thoughts on U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and the November presidential election.
“We are not dealing with Israel. We’ve backed away. We’re afraid of the political consequences,” he said.
Cuomo, the former governor of New York, and the party’s conscience at pivotal times in its recent history, will be at Southern Connecticut State University at 7 p.m. Wednesday to deliver the sixth-annual Mary and Louis Fusco Distinguished Lecture. His topic will be “The Leadership We Need.”
As a private citizen, Cuomo talked about a number of things that were important subjects for public discussion in the next seven months, from the Iraq war to the economy.
He said it is incumbent upon the United States to go to Israeli officials and tell them: “Up until now it was just you and the Palestinians killing one another – now you are killing us.” Cuomo, 70, said everything is different since 9/11 and the Iraq war.
“Now there are people out there who are taking Israel as the provocation to terrorize us all over the globe – in the United States and elsewhere.”
Cuomo said Israel must be told clearly that “you have a responsibility to all of us (and) we are going to be more assertive in dealing with you. .. So let’s sit down and talk.”
Cuomo, who did not support the Iraq war, said we are now “in a no-win position. You cannot retreat altogether and turn the place over to the Sunnis and the Shiites, because the next thing you know they will have a civil war.”
“We have to stay in place for the time being, but we’ve got to replace ourselves as the perceived occupying force,” Cuomo said, by convincing the United Nations and NATO it is in their best interest to get involved in the transition.
He didn’t fault the Kerry campaign for continuing to talk about the economy as the casualties mount in Iraq. He said all this talk about financial growth is accurate, but it only affects corporate profits.
“Never in history has labor profited as little from corporate earnings as it does now,” Cuomo said of executive pay, which is 537 times what workers get. “It wasn’t long ago, the number was 12 times what workers get.” The social responsibility themes of Cuomo’s message were the same as those he delivered 20 years ago when his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention boosted his political career to the national level.
The 12-year governor bemoaned the $1 trillion in tax cuts due out in the next decade for the top income earners, many of them his clients, which represent less than 2 percent of the population.
Cuomo, who is a lawyer in New York with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, said the average wage, at $43,000, is down from two years ago, with only one in five Americans holding high- skill jobs and 15 million unemployed or underemployed.
He supported Kerry’s position to not use public money to outsource jobs overseas, but he said losing jobs is part of a regular economic cycle that can only be countered by educating people for new skills and moving closer to fair trade.
The only governor to not support the North American Free Trade Agreement, Cuomo said he told then-President Clinton that by not demanding better wages and conditions in Mexico for its workers, the treaty would be a bad one.
“Their labor is so cheap. Their workers are so oppressed and abused. Their environmental requirements are so minimal. You are just encouraging all of that pain and damage,” Cuomo said he told Clinton.
“Once you sign the bill you lose all your leverage. … And that’s exactly what happened,” Cuomo said.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at email@example.com.