Mario Cuomo: ‘Speech about fairness’ (2)
Maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds, and to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel while we surrender their dignity to unemployment and to welfare checks, maybe if you stepped into a shelter in Chicago and talked with some of the homeless there: maybe Mr President, if you asked a woman who’d been denied the help she needs to feed her children because you say we need the money to give a tax break to a millionaire or to build a missile we can’t even afford to use – maybe then you’d understand. Maybe, Mr President.
But I’m afraid not. Because, the truth is, this is how we were warned it would be. President Reagan told us from the beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest. ‘Government can’t do everything,’ we were told, ‘so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest. Make the rich richer and what falls from their table will be enough for the middle class and those trying to make it into the middle class.’ The Republicans called it trickle-down when Hoover tried it. Now they call it supply side. It is the same shining city for those relative few who are lucky enough to live in its good neighborhoods. But for the people who are excluded – locked out – all they can do is to stare from a distance at that city’s glimmering towers.
It’s an old story. As old as our history. The difference between Democrats and the Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans believe the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of our old, some of our young, and some of our weak are left behind by the side of the trail. The strong will inherit the land! We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact. We have. More than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees, wagon train after wagon train.