New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo brought his cross-country non-candidacy here Friday, laying out an aggressive Democratic case against President Bush but insisting he was not the man to deliver it.
Instead, Cuomo urged in a speech to the National Assn. of Broadcasters that all of the Democratic contenders convene to "agree on a message (and) . . . put together answers for the American people."
"Instead of making our selection with a process that has people taking shots at one another personally," Cuomo told reporters after his speech, "let's get together and see how close to a consensus position we can come and then go out and say, 'This is what we all believe has to be done with the economy, who's best at getting it done?' "
Some Democratic strategists reacted coolly to Cuomo's suggestion Friday, arguing that it assumed a level of agreement among the likely candidates that does not exist. "The 1992 primary is going to be a real debate about which course the party is going to take, and it would be wrong to assume that there are no differences of opinion," said Bruce Reed, policy director at the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization of centrist Democrats.
The speech to the broadcasters at the Moscone Center returned Cuomo to the site of his most vivid moment on the national stage--a 1984 address to the Democratic convention that persuaded many Democrats he was uniquely qualified to give wings to the traditional liberal faith.
This year, speculation about Cuomo's interest in seeking the presidential nomination has fluctuated as unpredictably as the stock market. After Cuomo spoke at a California Democratic Party fund-raising lunch after his speech to the broadcasters, some activists came out spinning "late Mario" scenarios in which the governor might be persuaded to enter the contest.
But, as the party's field finally takes shape, more Democrats seem to be taking at face value Cuomo's insistence that his ambitions extend no further than Albany.
"I don't think people are waiting anymore," said one leading California Democrat, who attended the lunch. "Once candidates start announcing, then people start choosing up."
Before the broadcasters, Cuomo answered the inevitable question about his intentions with a sunburst of modesty. "If I thought that there was nobody else who could be President as well as I, then it would be different," Cuomo said. "I don't know about you, but that's an awfully tough conclusion to reach when you know yourself. It's very, very hard for me to say there's not somebody out there better than I."
But Cuomo once again tantalized the partisans in his audience, with a brisk, vigorous denunciation of President Bush for trying to "distract" the nation with "happy talk" while domestic problems festered.
"Restraint in dealing with a crisis in the Soviet Union, that's one thing," Cuomo told his audience of 1,000 radio broadcasters. "But there's no justification . . . for remaining spectators to our own economic and social deterioration, and that's what's happening."
As he has done before, Cuomo urged Congress and the President to find more cuts in the defense budget and to scrutinize entitlement spending, and he called for new tax credits--including a targeted reduction in the capital gains rate--to spur increased investment. Cuomo repeatedly scorned President Bush's contention that the nation has "more will than wallet" for confronting domestic problems.
"If another Saddam Hussein were to come along, would you consider surrendering to him because you have the will to fight but not the wallet?" Cuomo asked derisively.