“We’re not going to make America great again,” Andrew Cuomo proclaimed, “It was never that great.” That is a rather sweeping statement but skeptics might find clarification in Cuomo’s 2014 book All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life.
According to the author, twelve years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought on a “malaise.” So for Cuomo, the nation was clearly not great during that stretch. But then the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 renewed hope.
“Bill Clinton and Al Gore were the next generation,” Cuomo says. “They made government cool again.” And unlike Republicans, Clinton took on the country’s “large-scale urban ills.” When Clinton issued an executive order “directing HUD to break the cycle of homelessness in America,” he put Andrew Cuomo in charge of that task. As the new boss of Housing and Urban Development discovered, maybe government wasn’t so cool after all.
Cuomo quotes former HUD boss Henry Cisneros saying the massive federal agency is “a bureaucracy far more attentive to process than results, characterized by slavish loyalty to nonperforming programs.” And Cuomo learned the same lesson: “HUD had taught me that a central-government-knows-best approach rarely produces the best results.” In fact, adds Cuomo, “even the physical space at HUD was dysfunctional.” So this American government bureaucracy was not great, but what about government education?
As governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo learned that more education funding “was not necessarily improving students’ or teachers’ performance. It was about growing the bureaucracy.” In Cuomo’s account, New York spends an average of $19,522 per pupil annually, $8,914 more than the national average and more than any other state. Yet in graduation rates New York students ranked thirty-second nationwide, which is not that great.
If America as a whole was “never that great,” Andrew Cuomo does a fine job tracing that failure to the bureaucratic “central-government-knows-best” approach. So it doesn’t follow that an ever-expanding bureaucratic state, and increased dependency on government, are the keys to future national greatness.