Mario Cuomo died yesterday. Younger people will wonder what the big deal is about the death of the father of a CNN morning show host and a current governor of New York. But for a time, Cuomo, the son of Italian immigrants, occupied a big space in American political life, the presidency evidently waiting for him to claim. Outside of New York, he occupied people's imaginations and interest largely by the force of his eloquence and his intellect.
The political classes, at some level, came to dismiss Cuomo for taking what they thought was too much time to consider whether he would or should run for President. And then, worse in their eyes, deciding not to run.
At least some of this reaction, but not all, has, I think, more to do with the political class than with Cuomo. Driven by ambition themselves, they found it incomprehensible that the governor of one of the country's most populous states with an incredible gift for connecting with people, wouldn't, of course, go for the presidency.
Did Cuomo derive some narcissistic pleasure from sucking the oxygen out of presidential politics while he played Hamlet? Who can say?
But, irrespective of one's politics, Cuomo was exceptional in our hyper mediated culture, one in which political rhetoric aims for the faux intimacy of smarmy infomercial marketers instead of engaging discussions of the actual issues.
Cuomo was an eloquent orator with no hint of grandiosity or cant, a unique, compelling, reasoned voice, and one of the best, most compelling, practical, yet inspiring political orators of the past fifty years.
May God comfort his family.