A Surreal Evening with Andrew Cuomo and Billy Crystal

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a daily briefing at North Shore University Hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in Manhasset, N.Y., May 6, 2020. (File photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I can’t exactly say it was good for a laugh. But I did virtually attend last night’s Zoom conference (hosted by New York’s 92Y) with comedian Billy Crystal and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

It was quite surreal.

Cuomo’s latest book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, has climbed to No. 8 on the New York Times bestseller list. Along with nearly 600 — I assume — Biden voters, I watched the two tired, lackluster talking heads flash on and off the screen for over an hour.

Waiting in the Zoom lobby, I had a feeling that Crystal, himself a New Yorker and lifelong liberal, would pander to Cuomo unabashedly. This indeed proved to be the case. It was at times nauseating, to hear so much oily chatter between a washed-up actor and a mediocre politician. But the experience was ultimately worthwhile. I can attest now to a few salient characteristics of Cuomo’s and his general outlook on the pandemic, all of which inspire thoroughgoing cynicism.

Cuomo first discussed the possibility of a wave of “COVID PTSD” — emotional, not economic — following lockdowns. He is worried about skyrocketing levels of anxiety, depression, and drug abuse. Of course, there would be emotional wreckage. Not least because of the virus, but also because of the lockdowns themselves, the subsequent job losses, school closings, and bans on religious services — to name but a few side effects. But not once did Cuomo mention the economic impact of his lockdowns; nor did he propose remedies for the damage or plans to kick-start New York’s economy.

Rather, Cuomo explained his “whack-a-mole” strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19. If one county has a spike in cases, Cuomo said, it will go undergo further restrictions, while other counties, he hoped, wouldn’t have to face  another draconian lockdown with those same restrictions. “Whack-a-mole” will go on until there was a trusted vaccine, that is, a vaccine administered by the Biden administration. By Governor Cuomo’s estimation, the entire process would take until the end of 2021 — at the earliest.

He also talked about his impromptu briefings at the Javits Center. “You can appreciate this,” he said to Crystal, “because I think you do this as an art form. I stumbled into it.” He continued, heartfelt:

I was just 100 percent honest and authentic. I had no script. I had no preparation. It was what I knew. I had some numbers and I gave people the numbers. And then I just spoke from the heart, literally. Whatever it was, two hours a day, three hours a day.

Cuomo is proud of his improvisations. More important, he is proud of himself — for everything he’s done so far for New Yorkers. But the fact that Cuomo has begun to take his COVID victory lap while he and his party simultaneously warn of a foreboding winter is not just arrogant. It’s foolish. Here’s his half-time rationalization via a sports analogy:

I feel like we’re at halftime in the game, right? And we went through the first half, and we’re in the locker room at halftime. We have to go out there and we have to play a whole second half. And you better learn the lessons from the first half, if you think you have a shot to win on the second half.

As to how the virus spreads in the wintertime in New York, and the extent to which Cuomo’s policies will actually work if the situation on the ground changes rapidly, he’s uncertain. It might be disastrous; it might be effective. Cuomo knows, though, that in the interim, he should capitalize on warped public opinion and make it seem as if his policies always were — and always will be — successful.

Meanwhile, what would a Zoom talk between a liberal Hollywood actor and a Democratic governor be without blaming Trump for the bungled response to COVID-19 and all other social problems facing the country? “Trump panicked, and he deceived. He was always afraid. The economy was going to reelect him, and this [pandemic] would be inconvenient for the economy,” Cuomo said. He then claimed that anti-Semitism and racial intolerance are “higher than ever before” in America solely because of Trump. “Trump is a master at using the wedge. He’s a master at seeing a little crack and putting the thin edge of the wedge in that crack and hammering it home.” Cuomo’s bluster on anti-Semitism in particular is grossly hypocritical. Earlier in October, he targeted the religious liberty of Orthodox Jews, whose communities had been deemed COVID red zones, and were therefore subject to more drastic health measures. “If you’re not willing live with these rules, then I’m going to close synagogues,” Cuomo said.

In the end, Cuomo is yet another public servant who peddles revisionism to gullible liberal fans. Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, her self-aggrandizing memoir that “explains” her shocking loss in 2016, is another great example. Cuomo’s revisionism, though, is particularly shameless, as David Harsanyi pointed out. His decisions and feuds with Mayor Bill de Blasio might have been detrimental to the city early on in the pandemic. He has yet to be held accountable for his executive order that forced nursing homes across the state to take in COVID-positive patients (he probably never will) even though they were very poorly equipped to treat these patients while keeping other residents safe from the virus. Meanwhile, nearly half the country will see him as a hero, as the other half treats him like a villain. In that sense, Cuomo’s just like Trump, the president he loathes.


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