Oh joy, another book by a hero of lockdowns! This time it is from Andrew Cuomo, who rode the disease-panic wave to the heights during the confusion of Spring 2020 before falling to the depths a year later. The adoring crowds, the fawning media, the enthralled masses all went away in a seeming flash, entirely due to some alleged untoward romantic gestures about which some complained.
Cuomo accomplished the deed and then was thrown to the dogs. He went from angel to devil practically overnight. One day he was saving New York from Covid – surely he will soon be president! – and the next he was waking up with nothing to do but look over his royalty checks.
Let us see what he has to say in his memoir. The book was written when he was at the height of his fame, but then withdrawn by the publisher when he crashed to the ground. But as it happens, there are contracts and advances and royalties at stake, so here we are now: American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. The tone is confident, aggressive, sure-footed, and completely wrong.
We know for sure that he will not admit to having abused his power, personally or politically. He will not say that he had any part in wrecking New York, its commercial culture, its citizens’ sense of self-worth, or its religious freedoms. He will nowhere say that he went too far. He will not admit that he was a craven media tool or that he followed the mania in order to position himself for higher office. He will say none of that, any more than the rest of them have said that.
What does he say? Well, the book is more self-effacing than I expected, even disarming. He tells a good story concerning his personal life and struggles. It seems even sincere, and readers can connect with his professional rise then fall then rise again…and his subsequent fall again. His ideology is on display to the max: a progressive who believes strongly in government in its ideal but is always disappointed in its practice.
But the book is also strange for what it takes for granted, namely that locking down is the proper path to deal with infectious disease. Viruses in all times and places arrive, infect some portion of the population depending on prevalence, bear responsibility for the death of others, and eventually become endemic, which is to say, something we live with. This one was no different in any of its properties. What made this one different was its politicization and the casual but universally held view that life itself had to be fundamentally disrupted by government because of it.
Cuomo himself sneaks this presumption in from the start:
An airborne virus was one of the nightmare scenarios envisioned as a terrorist plot. It is easy to create chaos and overwhelm society with fear when people are afraid to breathe the air. There would be no good news with this virus and no good outcome. Schools and businesses would be closed. The economy would suffer. People would die. Nothing we could do would be enough. There was no possibility for victory, and even FDR and Churchill had at least the possibility of a successful outcome.
Really? No good outcome at all? Failure was baked in? Also, what is this passing mention of schools and businesses being forced to close? That did not happen in South Dakota, Sweden, Nicaragua, or Belarus. Why this concession to massive coercion when such had never been done in past pandemics? Where does this come from? And why did the governor just toss that in there? Why did he never rethink in the midst of his most egregious actions?
Keep in mind that he put this book to bed in the fall of 2020, just before his resignation following his call to open up New York. Here he writes that he defeated the virus. “New York State, a microcosm of the nation, has shown a path forward. We have seen government mobilize to handle the crisis. We have seen Americans come together in a sense of unity to do the impossible. We have seen how the virus is confronted and defeated.”
Remarkable. Consider the following two charts.
What these charts show is what one might have expected from any new virus of this sort with this risk profile. It killed. Then it infected more. Then 99.8% of those infected shook it off and obtained an upgraded immune system, no thanks to the vaccine that stopped neither infection nor spread. Then life got back to normal. Every bit of this trajectory was easily predictable regardless of what government did or did not do.
The virus did not need Cuomo to battle it: the human immune system does the hard work and governments are mere spectators. Public health knew that for decades until suddenly they did not. The temptation to be a hero was too great for vast numbers of people holding public office, Cuomo among them.
What government did was wreck much more than was necessary in the name of doing something. What’s worse is that the things government did reversed the higher-level knowledge that the one group that needed protection from the virus was the vulnerable population, in this case, the elderly and infirm.
Cuomo, on the other hand, signed an order, replicated in many other states, to force nursing homes to accept Covid patients in the extra rooms. No choice. They had to. This led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. More on that in a moment.
On lockdowns, Cuomo simply bakes into the prose the idea that they had to happen. They began in New Rochelle, NY.
“No one was ready to accept that they needed to change how they were living…. As we saw in Westchester that day, local parochial concerns would butt up against major, wide-ranging changes that had to occur in order to combat the virus. As we were instituting this lockdown on New Rochelle, one Democratic assemblywoman who represented Westchester came to my office demanding a meeting; then she simply sat in the second row at a press conference and scowled at me.”
And that’s it: lockdown is the whole scheme. He never doubts it, never even argues for it.
The day after our first COVID case, the legislature passed the law giving the governor emergency powers to handle the crisis. If the legislature had not passed the law, I would not have had the power to do what I would soon do. There would be no executive order closing businesses or schools, no order requiring masks or social distancing. … The law was smart, and it has proven successful.
Now, let’s just jump ahead to the great nursing home scandal. I was curious what Cuomo had to say. I will just quote him.
By early spring, Republicans needed an offense to distract from the narrative of their botched federal response—and they needed it badly. So they decided to attack Democratic governors and blame them for nursing home deaths…. The Trump forces had a simple line: “Thousands died in nursing homes.” It was true. But they needed to add a conspiracy, which was that they died because of a bad state policy that “mandated and directed” that the nursing homes accept COVID-positive people, and these COVID-positive people were the cause of the spread of the disease in the nursing homes. It was a lie. New York State never demanded or directed that any nursing home accept a COVID-positive patient.”
That’s fascinating because I’m almost sure that I saw such an order. I look at the New York State website and it has been taken down. I found it on the Internet Archive. It is on New York State letterhead.
It reads as follows:
COVID-19 has been detected in multiple communities throughout New York State. There is an urgent need to expand hospital capacity in New York State to be able to meet the demand for patients with COVID-19 requiring acute care. As a result, this directive is being issued to clarify expectations for nursing homes (NHs) receiving residents returning from hospitalization and for NHs accepting new admissions…. No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.
Oh. So it wasn’t a lie after all. And anyone can check this. Read the above. That certainly sounds like New York State directed nursing homes to accept Covid-positive patients. Denying that he did this amounts to pettifoggery over terms. The import was perfectly obvious. Why not just admit that he made a mistake?
I’m tempted to end this review there. But it actually gets worse. At one point, Cuomo writes that his heroics actually worked and that this is obvious. He is or was a completely unrepentant lockdower:
States like Arizona, Florida, and Texas that followed Trump’s demands to reopen quickly saw increased infection rates and needed to close their economies back down—reopening only to re-close. As a result, the financial markets were distressed with the volatility in these states. This stood in stark contrast to New York, where as of this writing 75 percent of our economy is open and our infection rate has been consistently 1 percent or below for nearly three months and among the lowest in the nation. It is incomprehensible that people still support Trump’s disproven theories. The states that most closely followed Trump’s “guidance” were doing the worst.
Look again at the charts above. The virus was only getting started when he turned in this text. He wrote those words during a seasonal downturn. Infections were still coming and coming in wave after wave. New York fared as bad as any state, certainly far worse than Florida or other open states. Meanwhile, New York drove residents out, and the state is in far worse economic condition than most.
And yet here he is taking credit for an intelligent and hands-on approach that wrecked the lives, liberties, and property of residents of the state, who, to this day, have yet to regain their composure. He did this. He became famous and beloved for it. And to this day, based on this book, he still believes that he was right.
Cuomo can’t imagine – truly – that he might have done anything wrong except perhaps communicated more clearly. In truth, governments could have forced everyone to paint their faces bright blue and wear frying pans for shoes and it would not have changed the pandemic outcome from what it was going to be. The virus never cared. But don’t tell that to Cuomo: the upshot of his book is that he saved New York. Nothing will convince him otherwise.
In short, don’t read this book looking for an apology. These politicians all panicked, as John Tamny argued from the beginning. No matter the policy, the pandemic was going to recede into memory, as it has. No matter how badly this class of politicians performed, somehow they all managed to claim to have done the right thing, and to earn royalties on their ghost-written accounts of their genius.
Even given everything, the book is not all bad. His personal stories are self effacing and engaging. He is a real person with a real life, with choices to make, risks to take, difficulties to face, family struggles, and so on. He was free to engage life to its fullest in 2020, unlike the 20 million people he locked down and robbed of all such opportunities. He believed that it was the right thing to do because Fauci was saying that it was. It was not in fact the right thing to do.
I would like to end by echoing Cuomo’s tribute to those who were shoved out in front to face the virus while the laptoppers languished at home in hiding. He is exactly right to say the following:
The heroes who made this happen were the working families of New York. When we were in our moment of need, we called on the blue-collar New Yorkers to show up for everyone. We needed them to come to work and risk their health so that so many of us could stay safely at home. These are the people who have received the fewest rewards from society but from whom we now asked the most.
These are the people who would have been most justified in refusing our call. They were not the rich and the well-off. They were not the highly paid. They have not been given anything more than they deserved. They had no obligation to risk their health and the health of their families. But they did it simply because “it was the right thing to do.” But for some that is enough. For some that is everything.
These heroes are the people who live in places like Queens, where I grew up. These are the people working hard to better themselves and their families. These are parents concerned first and foremost with protecting their families, but who still showed up every day as nurses, National Guard members, train operators, bus drivers, hospital workers, police officers, grocery store employees, food delivery drivers. They are Puerto Ricans, Haitians, African Americans, Dominicans, Asians, Guatemalans. These are the immigrants who love America, who make America, and who will fight for it.
These are the heroes of this battle. When COVID began, I felt it was unfair to call on them to carry such a heavy burden. I feared I would put them in harm’s way. But we didn’t have an option if society was to function. We needed food, hospitals, and electricity to stay alive.
All through this difficult endeavor there was never a moment when these people refused to show up or leveraged more benefits for themselves. At the beginning of a battle no one knows who will actually survive. Courage is determined by the willingness to enter the field. No one knew that when we started, the infection rate among our essential workers would be no higher than the general community infection rate. They have my undying admiration and the gratitude of every true New Yorker.
We can only say to that: Amen! These people do deserve deep gratitude. They also deserve a government that will never again conscript them to go to work for the professional class in order that the well-to-do can keep clean and free of pathogens. That the people Cuomo rightly celebrates were so treated is a violation of the social contract, and now have every reason to be bitter. And don’t you love the comment that “We needed food, hospitals, and electricity to stay alive?” Who exactly is “we” here?
We know. We know all too well.