Gov. Cuomo has shrewdly tied himself to what could be the most potent political movement of the 1990s.
The movement is the fast-growing public reaction to the excesses of the Reagan era of GOP political dominance throughout the 1980s. Its most egregious effects are huge budget deficits and the savings and loan debacle, which could cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion. Gambling tycoon Donald Trump, now on the ropes, is a personification of the era of GOP greed.
Democrat Cuomo has wisely endorsed the new book "The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath." Its author is political analyst Kevin Phillips, who correctly predicted "the emerging Republican majority" in 1966. Now Phillips says it is quite possible that there will be a resurgence by the Democratic Party in reaction to the Reagan era.
Another new book that hits many of the same themes is "Peril and Promise: A Commentary on America" by John Chancellor, the veteran NBC News correspondent and commentator. He, too, excoriates the Reagan era and its greed, ballooning deficits and S & L taxpayer rip-offs.
Phillips, a scholar and publisher of the American Political Report, says the United States has had no parallel upsurge of riches since the age of avarice and ambition on Wall Street when banker J.P. Morgan and oil baron J.D. Rockefeller were dominant. Phillips cites figures showing that the share of the national income going to the richest 1 percent has almost doubled, from a little more than 8 percent in 1981 to almost 15 percent in the late '80s.
During the past decade, the net worth of the 400 richest Americans skyrocketed 300 percent, Phillips points out. As the rich were getting richer, the gap between them and average Americans widened. In 1980, top corporate officers were paid about 40 times as much as factory workers. Today, they receive more than 90 times as much as working stiffs.
"The redistribution of American wealth," Phillips observed, "raised questions not just about polarization, but also about trivialization. Less and less wealth was going to people who produced something. Services were ascendant -- from fast food to legal advice, investment vehicles to databases. It is one thing for new technologies to reduce demand for obsolescent professions, enabling society to concentrate more resources in emerging sectors like health and leisure. But the distortion lies in the disproportionate rewards to society's economic, legal and cultural manipulators -- from lawyers and financial advisers to advertising executives, merchandisers, media magnates and entertainers."
While the Trumps triumphed, the blue-collar workers were cast up on the rusty rubble. Farmers lost their land and the underclass in cities grew to Dickensian proportions.
But it wasn't just the poor who suffered in the '80s, conservative Republican Phillips laments. The middle class was hit, too. He quotes business historian Peter Drucker, who two years ago noted: "Middle managers have become insecure and they feel unbelievably hurt. They feel like slaves on the auction block."
While the rich were pulling in the cash, they were not helping the United States. The country during the Reagan era actually declined vis-a-vis other nations. Japan overtook the United States with assets of almost $44 trillion, compared with a little more than $36 trillion for the United States. In per-capita gross national product, the United States now ranks ninth, behind not only Japan and West Germany but even small countries such as Switzerland and Denmark.
Phillips may be showing his GOP bias when he casts doubt on the ability of the Democratic Party to seize the opportunity created by this opening. A famous Democratic Party name, Kennedy, last week linked the S & L scandals with that of another famous name: Bush.
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, D-Mass., it need not be pointed out, now is an in-law of the Cuomo family. If pundits such as Chancellor and Phillips are right, the time may be ripe for the Cuomo-Kennedy wing of the world's oldest political party to lead the counterattack on the Reagan-Bush era of GOP greed.