The media has smothered New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with fawning praise from the beginning of this crisis and the downpour of adulation still continues, with no sign of letting up. Contrast this with the scorn heaped on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who we are told is a reckless and dangerous imbecile, among other things. One can’t help but notice a key difference between these two governors that may explain the varied reception they have received. That difference, of course, is the letter next to their names. But there is another difference, one that the media pretends not to notice and hopes you will not notice, either: Governor Cuomo has done the worst job of containing the outbreak (over 20,000 dead) while Governor DeSantis has been among the best (fewer than 2,000 dead in a population slightly larger than New York’s).
This appears to be the general pattern. The governors who have presided over the worst outbreaks are hailed as heroes while the governors who have been most successful in controlling the spread are cast as villains. But nowhere is this upside down approach more evident than with Governor Cuomo, the coronavirus champion who has managed to get everything wrong, every step of the way.
Granted, he faced a greater challenge than any other governor because his state happens to contain a city with 26,000 people packed into every square mile. And granted most of his missteps have been the same missteps that most other governors have made. It is clear that locking everyone in their homes and driving a knife directly into the heart of the economy in order to fight a virus was a very bad strategy, and one that may take more lives than it saves in the long run. Cuomo does not deserve unique blame for this disaster. But neither does he deserve unique praise. At best, he has been just as incompetent as everyone else. Though I think even that would be an overly generous assessment.
Cuomo not only kept the subway system open — despite it being a known vector for the illness — but he apparently didn’t think to give it a thorough cleaning until this week. Worse, Cuomo forced nursing homes to take in coronavirus patients, which is the equivalent of starting a campfire on a windy day in a forest full of dead wood during wildfire season. It has been well known from the beginning that nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks and their residents are most at risk of fatal complications from the illness. Nearly 5,000 nursing home residents have died from coronavirus in New York alone. In many other states across the country, well over half of all fatalities have happened in nursing homes. Cuomo’s decision to forcibly introduce the infection into these facilities — while refusing to provide protective gear, because it’s “not his job” — can be directly blamed for many deaths.
The nursing home mandate is a breathtaking scandal in and of itself. But you won’t hear much about it on the news, because the news media has already settled on its “Cuomo the Corona Conqueror” narrative. You especially won’t hear about it on CNN, a news network that has enlisted Cuomo’s admiring younger brother to conduct its interviews with the governor. These segments, too, have received fawning approval. But something tells me the fans of the Cuomo-Cuomo chat sessions would not be nearly as impressed if Fox hired Don Jr to do cutesy little interviews with his father.
In any case, obviously we cannot blame Cuomo for every death in his state. But we can ask whether there is any good reason to praise his performance. I see compelling evidence that his leadership has been a failure. Where is the evidence that it has been a smashing success? Or perhaps we might phrase the question this way: If Cuomo’s leadership during this crisis has not been a failure, what exactly would failure look like?