ALBANY — Since you are all good and earnest citizens, I know you’re making your way through “American Crisis,” the new book by Andrew Cuomo.
What page are you on? Me, I’ve read all the … What’s that? You’re not reading it? Oh.
Well, then I’ll tell you the memoir released Tuesday is a meandering, day-by-day account from the darkest days of New York’s battle with the coronavirus crisis. The mythic hero of the book is … you can guess it … Andrew Cuomo!
By the governor’s telling, he’s the brave truth-teller who fought an inept president, reassured a fearful public, put partisan politics aside, tamed a novel virus and is now available to offer “leadership lessons.” The self-aggrandizement gets old quickly, but I’ll admit there’s some truth to the governor’s claims.
Cuomo really was a reassuring figure for Americans at the start of the pandemic. He did confront an unexpected crisis. New York, once the virus epicenter, did flatten the curve. And the federal response really wasn’t up to snuff.
I’ll also concede that “American Crisis” has moments of terrific charm and honesty, like when the governor looks in the mirror and sees an old man staring back, or when he admits he’s a cynic with an aggressive and controlling personality, or when he writes with obvious love for his daughters and father.
“What I wouldn’t give to be able to sit at home with my old man for just one more day,” the governor writes of Mario Cuomo, who died in 2015. “To have him back, hear his voice, touch his face, and hold his hand.”
Oh my God, I thought after reading that passage, did Andrew Cuomo just make me cry? Yes, he did.
The best of the book gives us a man of a certain age — Cuomo is 62 — who has accepted the gift of honest reflection and is willing to concede his personal shortcomings. Any decent memoir needs that, of course, and Cuomo won a national audience by showing his vulnerable side during daily briefings that became must-watch TV.
The fatal flaw with “American Crisis,” though, is that Cuomo remains largely unwilling to admit policy mistakes, particularly those involving the coronavirus. Maybe that’s because the events are too recent and raw for honest self-reflection. Or maybe the politician in Cuomo remains too arrogant or ambitious to acknowledge errors.
The most outrageous example is the book’s relatively short segment on nursing homes. Of course, Cuomo has come under hot criticism, here and elsewhere, for a state order requiring that nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients.
It was an awful policy, and the governor would do well to admit it was flawed. Instead, he uses “American Crisis” to duck responsibility and gaslight, claiming that the March 25 order wasn’t what it clearly was, that it didn’t do any actual harm and that only right-wing media cares.
It is all, to use a favorite Cuomo word, baloney.
In the book, Cuomo cites a discredited state report blaming employees for introducing the virus to nursing homes. He suggests nursing homes didn’t actually take in COVID patients, though his own health department says more than 6,300 were transferred to them.
Worse, he uses a bogus number to falsely claim, once again, that New York ranks low in the percentage of overall deaths tied to nursing homes.
As many of you know, the state’s official nursing home tally of more than 6,600 fatalities is a significant undercount that excludes residents who ultimately died in hospitals. Other states don’t count nursing home deaths that way, and, despite numerous requests and even a lawsuit, Cuomo has refused to release the honest number.
And you won’t find it in his book.
That failing makes “American Crisis” a missed opportunity. If the governor intended the book as a truthful account of history, it needed to be, well, truthful. That it isn’t on so key an issue undercuts Cuomo’s claim that his writing offers us “leadership lessons.”
Instead, it suggests the book is really about politics — the upcoming presidential election, for one, and Cuomo’s own future.
The governor uses “American Crisis” to tell us he has no interest in running for president or taking a job in Washington. When he is no longer ruling Albany, he writes, he will “buy a boat and go fishing.”
Why, then, has Cuomo rushed into print a memoir that attempts to burnish his national reputation as a hero of the pandemic? Why does he feel compelled to keep passing the buck on nursing homes? Why won’t he give us honest statistics?
Questions for his next book to answer, perhaps.
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