With the United States lurching from crisis to crisis, the Democrats want their convention to present them as the tough, mature, serious bunch who will clean up the mess the President has caused. Few men are as integral to this guise as Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York — whose popularity soared throughout the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the care and seriousness he appeared to be displaying. But how much does reality match up with the image?
‘In many ways, COVID is just a metaphor,’ said Cuomo on the opening night of the DNC. ‘A virus attacks when the body is weak and when it cannot defend itself.’ This can be true, of course. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous for the old, the sick and the obese than for the young, the healthy and the trim. But good health does not confer a sweeping immunity to viruses. Tommy Morrison was a big, strapping, healthy heavyweight boxer when he was struck by the HIV that would end his career.
In many ways, this mistake is just a metaphor. Andrew Cuomo is more interested in what sounds right than in what is right. Elevating the fact that being physically weak makes you more vulnerable to viruses to a claim that viruses unfailingly isolate the physically weak lends weight to his subsequent point about how ‘America’s body politic has been weakened.’ Who cares if it patronizes people who have lost strong and healthy relatives to disease?
‘Only a strong body can fight off the virus,’ Cuomo sweepingly declared. I hope that this doesn’t unnecessarily frighten people with health conditions. In fact, people have recovered from coronavirus even when they have had Crohn’s Disease, diabetes and Nephrotic Syndrome.
If these are relatively minor instances of Cuomo’s earnest sermonizing taking precedence over the truth, a more grotesque example comes when he insists that ‘our way succeeded’ (because ‘we are smart’ and ‘care for one another’). Did New York ‘succeed’ when it shoveled thousands of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes? Was that ‘smart’? And was the ‘legal shield’ Cuomo agreed to which would protect nursing home operators from lawsuits an example of caring for one another?
‘Of course, we will socially distance,’ Cuomo proclaims, ‘because staying away shows how close we actually are.’ One thing I would have given Cuomo credit for was being one of few Democratic politicians who had the consistency to criticize Black Lives Matter protests for potentially spreading coronavirus. However, Cuomo fudged this reproof in July by saying ‘I said from day one I stand with the protesters’ — even as it also became increasingly plausible that the unrest had helped to accentuate a devastating spike in crime.
Over the last few weeks, not many people raised questions about the fact that Gov. Cuomo was being held accountable, on the national stage, by his own brother. You cannot deny that Andrew and Chris Cuomo’s fraternal banter boosted the morale of many Americans, but it became hard to stomach as the potential for tough questions about, say, New York’s nursing homes was neglected in favor of hammy jokes about the size of Andrew’s nose. As David A. Graham of the Atlantic pointed out in an admirable piece:
‘…it’s evident that the perception of Andrew Cuomo’s competence and the reality of his performance are at odds. And yet, in his most high-profile media appearances during the worst of the pandemic, the governor was not being grilled on the Empire State’s failings. Instead, Chris Cuomo was trying to pin him down on whether his brother’s supposedly heroic leadership might make him think about running for President.’
Chris Cuomo, we might add, was blatantly lying to his viewers about the nature of his own experiences with coronavirus — theatrically emerging from quarantine days after being seen in public. His wife, meanwhile, was promoting bogus wellness products. None of that is Andrew Cuomo’s fault, of course, but if he wants to talk a big game about being smart and caring he should perhaps display some tough love close to home.
Andrew Cuomo’s airy words about the ‘beautiful’ conclusion to New York’s struggle with COVID-19 — which showed, somehow, that ‘love wins’ — might not cohere with the feelings of the remaining citizens of New York City. Infection rates and deaths have fallen, which is to be celebrated, and when we know more about the nature of this illness and our efforts to prevent its spread, we might be able to give Cuomo some credit for that. But more than 30,000 people have died and the lockdowns that have been established to suppress the virus have had their own devastating effects. A third of New York’s small businesses might be gone forever. Scores of New Yorkers are leaving the city. The causes of that spike in crime which has seen shootings surge by 200 percent might be up for debate, but the suffering it has wrought is not. No one could sensibly hold Gov. Cuomo is entirely to blame for this — but is it what ‘love winning’ looks like? My God, imagine what it looks like when hate wins.
Cuomo wants to emphasize that America needs good leadership. He hopes to contrast his measured, sober, serious tone with the reckless, combative, self-involved waffling of Trump. The President can indeed behave like this. But Cuomo also demonstrates that the appearance of seriousness can obscure dishonesty, bad decision-making and obliviousness. The Democratic facade of smooth managerial competence will shake and shudder if it has to withstand life in power.
Still, maybe Cuomo will have a better stab at explaining himself in his new book on the pandemic, which he announced this morning. What inauspicious timing!