The Democratic Convention: Come the great moment, Mario does Bill proud

THE ANCIENTS might have built a calendar of life around it. Every Leap Year, a few weeks before the summer Olympics, strange things happen across the vast North American continent below the 49th parallel. Mario Cuomo makes a great speech, and the Democrats convince themselves that they can win a presidential election.

If great theatre is the suspension of disbelief, then the play to see has been in Madison Square Garden this week. Normally, a party convention has all the spontaneity of the Eurovision Song Contest. Then along comes that figure in the trademark white shirt and plain midnight blue suit - and for a moment pigs can fly and men can walk on water.

On Wednesday night he did it again. To tell the truth, the substance of Mario Cuomo's nominating address for Bill Clinton wasn't really new. The themes, even many of the lines, have cropped up regularly in orations past. There was even a reference to the 'two cities' metaphor that brought the house down when he did the keynote in San Francisco, back in 1984. The genius of Mario Cuomo, though, is that he makes you think he's handing you the tablets from the Mount in person.

And then there's always the tantalising sub-plot. For the last eight years Mr Cuomo has been the unfulfilled Democratic dream, the man who could thrill the party, but for reasons known only to him refused to run for President himself. Would there be a hint of regret - or better still a coded message, 'Forget Bill - I, Mario, am your true leader'?

And after all, wasn't Mr Cuomo supposed to be the keeper of the party's liberal conscience, the immigrant's child who had risen to be chief executive of the glorious Empire State, who not so long ago was so dismissive of that smooth young moderate Governor from hillbilly-land in Arkansas?

And wasn't it only this year that he was castigating Mr Clinton for 'a slur on all the races' after those tapes which purportedly had Young Bill concurring with Gennifer Flowers that Mr Cuomo 'sure sounded' like a Mafioso? Not so, however. When the great moment came, Mario did Bill proud, and then some.

There was the soaring oratory, the grief at the fate of 'young people growing up with the sound of gunfire before they've heard an orchestra', and the castigation of President Bush for his politics of 'decline, decay and deceit'.

As an orator Mr Cuomo is without peer. The eyes may be pouchy, the mouth seemingly made of india rubber, the visage wistful, even lugubrious. But almost alone, he understands that a speech is more than shouting. He changes the pace, the volume and the emphasis. On Wednesday he was by turns sarcastic, alliterative and erudite, even bursting into Latin at one point, not the standard mode of expression at Democratic conventions.

But for a party so untypically hungering for unity, what mattered was his praise for Bill Clinton. Some had predicted that the nominee's name would barely feature. In the event, the 'C-word' came up 28 times in a speech of 27 minutes: 'Bill Clinton has always been driven by the desire to lift himself above his own immediate concerns: to give himself to something larger than himself.' No candidate could have sought a more compelling presentation.

When it was over they wept: and some did wonder, should not this have been the man giving the acceptance speech last night? But Mario Cuomo seemed at peace with the realisation, that at 60, almost certainly, he will never now be President - assuming he ever wanted the job in the first place.

For Mario Cuomo, what next? Mr Clinton has suggested that he would make an excellent Supreme Court justice, but that would be a waste, and for Democrats a deprivation. How else, every four years, will they so fiercely believe that this time, the game is theirs?

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea