Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new book looks and feels exactly like the sort of weighty tome a politician writes when laying the groundwork for a future presidential run.
Titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the book is a sometimes compelling, sometimes dull mix of memoir, pandemic primer and musings on leadership, politics and family.
Released earlier this month, “American Crisis” comes at an odd time.
It depicts Cuomo and his team as victorious in their efforts to get COVID-19 under control, even as it’s becoming increasingly clear that the crisis described in the book is far from over and that New York’s work is far from done.
“But even if we see a second wave in the fall due to factors beyond our control, it is inarguable that New York’s success is an antidote to Trump’s message of nihilism,” Cuomo observes, near the end of “American Crisis.” “In the test of the two theories, the results are clear: New York tough, strong, united, disciplined, and loving defeated Trump’s approach of division and fear and retaliation.”
“New York,” Cuomo writes, “is living proof that love wins.”
I, too, like to believe that love wins.
But the governor’s words of inspiration are difficult to swallow if you’ve been paying any attention to the grim state of the pandemic. Things are getting worse, not better, with the U.S. reporting 82,000 new cases on Friday, the highest one day total since the pandemic began.
And while New York still boasts a low test positivity rate, there are some worrisome signs.
Hospitalizations in New York from COVID-19 have more than doubled in the last month, and the state reported more than 1,000 hospitalizations due to the virus on Friday for the first time in four months.
All of which can make picking through “American Crisis” a strange and disorienting experience.
Why, I kept wondering, did Cuomo write this book now?
Perhaps the governor was hoping to capitalize upon the unexpected celebrity that his daily COVID-19 briefings bestowed upon him in the spring.
Or perhaps he simply wanted to control the narrative – to present his efforts to control and contain the virus in the most heroic light possible, while downplaying missteps and mistakes. Or maybe, just maybe, Cuomo really does want to present himself as a potential presidential candidate, and “American Crisis” is campaign literature disguised as a more serious work.
Cuomo has consistently denied that he wants to run for president, and his book does the same, while also denying that he wanted to be Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate.
“I am not a typical politician,” the governor writes. “If I were, I would have run for president. Period. I had to make sure that it was clear that I had no agenda besides helping New Yorkers. This was not about me, it was about them. And there was no politics at play. I am a Democrat and a proud Democrat. I am the son of Mario Cuomo and a proud son. But I am first and foremost governor of New York.”
There’s plenty in that paragraph to chew on, and I’ll admit that I almost spit out my coffee when the governor said that he was not a typical politician. I haven’t looked up the word politician in the dictionary recently, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it featured a picture of Andrew Cuomo under the definition.
That said, I have generally believed Cuomo’s many assertions that he’s not interested in running for president, even if nobody else does.
Cuomo’s always struck me as someone with the job he always wanted, and he’s only become more powerful in his nine years as the state’s chief executive. He’s coasted to re-election, and seems likely to do so again. Exchanging the familiar comforts of New York’s political scene for the rigors and scrutiny of the presidential campaign trail just doesn’t seem like his cup of tea.
I could be wrong, of course, and “American Crisis” might be the best evidence yet that Cuomo really does harbor presidential aspirations, however much he denies it.
Such aspirations are the obvious reason for a book like this to exist.
Which isn’t to say that “American Crisis” doesn’t have insight, or even charm.
Cuomo’s anecdotes about family – his daughters, his mother, his late father – are touching, and at times he displays a vulnerability that’s as unexpected as it is appealing.
“I am an overprotective parent, and it frustrates and embarrasses my daughters,” the governor writes. “My natural instinct is to be aggressive, and it doesn’t always serve me well.”
“American Crisis” would have benefited from more introspection, particularly when it discusses the state’s response to COVID-19.
If mistakes were made, Cuomo doesn’t dwell on them.
If missteps might have contributed to the state’s high death toll – still the highest in the country, by a long shot – the governor doesn’t discuss them. If the governor has any big regrets, they’re not in the book.
“We met a historic challenge,” Cuomo writes. “In some ways it wasn’t the end but only the beginning.”
I’m not sure we need Cuomo to write “American Crisis II: More Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” when this thing is really over, but the governor knows as well as I do that we’re still in the midst of a historic challenge.
His book isn’t without interest or insight, but it already feels out of date.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.