Gov. Cuomo, no stranger to producing embarrassing political posters, has done it again, this time saluting his own leadership and the achievements of New York State in the coronavirus crisis.
If New Yorkers could die from cringing, its chief executive would’ve just caused a new public health crisis.
It is true that Cuomo has done many of the right things over the past four months, and that this is a moment in which New York, having beaten back its caseload and overcome its death spike, looks better than Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states where cases are spiking and deaths are increasing.
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Cuomo wants to remind us of this, I think, to try to congratulate the people of his state on a significant achievement — complying with Albany-ordered shutdowns, bending the curve and saving lives — giving them a well deserved boost of morale after a difficult stretch.
But it is never wise to gloat like this in the midst of a raging pandemic, and not like this.
Not when New York’s death rate still far, far, far exceeds the rates in the other states in question. Yes, Sun Belt deaths will likely rise as the virus rips through nursing homes, as it already has here, but they’re highly unlikely to approach the Empire State’s.
Not when the governor and Mayor de Blasio, for all their willingness to listen to public-health officials, made many errors that almost certainly contributed to that death total.
Not when the virus could easily come roaring back, as it has in California and Michigan, despite proactive gubernatorial leadership there, a point Cuomo emphasizes all the damn time. There but for the grace of the virus and our fellow Americans go we.
Not when Cuomo, who put the brakes on especially worrisome indoor dining in New York City, has allowed it to go forward in Long Island and Westchester, despite similar public health risks in those locales.
Now, can we talk for a minute about the imagery in the tableau, which the governor spent about six minutes today earnestly explaining, after he waxed rhapsodic about old posters like a famous one supporting William Jennings Bryan?
Yikes. If the Bryan poster, complete with its octopus controlling the economy in what at least today feels like an anti-Semitic trope, was the gold standard, Cuomo’s homage is made of tin foil.
It’s one thing to show an image like this to try to win legislators over to the state budget or to celebrate one’s accomplishments with tongue half in cheek; it’s another to paint oneself and one’s state as the conquering heroes of a pandemic that by any honest measure has laid us low.
There’s the large quote across the top by, yes, one “Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” chiding the rest of the country for failing to be as smart as he’s been.
There is a line of masked essential workers, seemingly on loan from a Diego Rivera WPA mural, pulling down the curve, joined by the governor’s daughters and dog, because of course they are.
There’s a table at which Cuomo and three supporting cast members, awkwardly caricatured and unmasked, sit, with the words “New York Leads Again” in front of them. (True: We led in coronavirus deaths.)
There’s a giant banner proclaiming “Love Wins” — yes, really — over a rainbow. At least he didn’t get it trademarked.
There’s Cuomo in a muscle car.
There’s a picture of “The Sun On the Other Side,” where apparently we are now, despite looming risk and New York City being told it’s not going to get back to normal for some time. De Blasio is saying school will come back in a hybrid model in the fall; Cuomo’s saying not so fast. This is a moment for pausing to write in the history books?
And at the center of it all, there’s a mountain steeper than any in the Adirondacks. This was modeled after the actual three-dimensional foam mountain Cuomo unveiled last month, like something a sunburned Richard Dreyfus might frantically mold out of mashed potatoes.
Cuomo wants us to believe we together climbed that peak and then descended it, presumably to soak our feet in bath salts when reaching basecamp.
Not a gravestone appears anywhere in this awkward spectacle, nor does the number of New York dead, which exceed 32,000.
There’s a reason most people who are very, very proud of themselves, who want to cement their legacies, get others to give them glowing introductions, then act humble when they walk up to the podium. Puffery is profoundly unbecoming; that’s one lesson that the presidency of Donald Trump ought to have driven home.
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