An elite flouting the very rules he lays down is a familiar part to play. It's just that usually you don't get an Emmy for it.
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference on September 08, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
How was your Thanksgiving? Guaranteed it was nowhere near as festive as if our nation’s Democratic governors had gotten together. You can almost picture it: Gavin Newsom’s enormous maskless entourage crowding the foyer; Gretchen Whitmer’s turkey in the oven, minus the stuffing which she forgot she’d banned; Tom Wolf pointlessly insisting no one drink anything until dinner; Andrew Cuomo shifting uncomfortably in his chair when someone asks where Grandma is.
An illustrious guest list, to be sure, though it’s Cuomo who will be making the first lunge for the Merlot. The New York governor has had himself quite a month. First, he was slammed for his hypocrisy over his own Thanksgiving coronavirus restrictions. Then he watched as his own party claimed a supermajority in his state’s senate—a good thing, you might think, except Cuomo is considered moderate for a New York Democrat, as is, for example, your average Death Eater. And finally, the Supreme Court tossed out his pandemic executive order closing churches, with Justice Neil Gorsuch skewering the governor personally in his concurring opinion.
The first of those, the hypocrisy, seems like the least consequential of the bunch, yet I would submit it’s worth a closer look. Before the holiday, Cuomo warned New Yorkers not to have over the entire family for Thanksgiving, lest Uncle Vernon turn into a COVID super-spreader. Yet he then ignored his own health guidelines, inviting his 89-year-old mother Matilda to dinner. Being from New York, he then promptly went on the radio and started bragging about it, generally not an effective means of concealing one’s hypocrisy. Conservatives pounced, as they tend to do, and Cuomo found himself in a pandemic pickle.
And so there he was the next day, canceling dinner with his mother and announcing plans to work through the holidays like some Gotham Bob Cratchit. You had to have a heart of stone not to sympathize a little, and not only because Cuomo made the announcement while wearing a mask with a turkey on it. The man’s mother is almost 90 for goodness sake. There have been many casualties amid this CIA black site of a year, and what a shame that the latest had to be this poor woman’s (or any poor woman’s) Thanksgiving. In 2020, we are all Matilda, and I hope she makes it to her centenary and well beyond.
As for son Andrew, you can say this much: his planned family dinner was nowhere near as hypocritical as certain other Democratic profiles in courage of late. There was Governor Gavin Newsom, who apparently thinks it’s epidemiologically sound to take his entire intramural squash club out to dinner sans masks at a place called the French Laundry. There was Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who sent a tweet encouraging people not to travel for Thanksgiving right before boarding an outbound plane. There was Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who dined outside at a restaurant mere hours after voting to ban dining outside at restaurants. And there were the countless other Democrats who showed up last summer at Black Lives Matter protests to march socially undistanced with activists.
And then, just when you thought the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do cases might finally be in remission, it came out that London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, had thrown her own party at the same restaurant as Gavin Newsom one day after his dinner there. (It may be that we need a separate CARES Act just for the French Laundry. Right now, a raw bar at a Wuhan marketplace sounds safer.)
This is paint-peeling hypocrisy, and it risks discrediting the needful health guidelines that are in place. Why should a bar teetering on a financial knife’s edge cordon off its tables when those who passed the ban are out gaily sipping mimosas? Why spend Thanksgiving with just the Detroit Lions when the mayor is wheels up? The narrative shifts from one of communal sacrifice to one of hypocrisy, repression, control—and perhaps that’s inevitable. The elite who flouts the very rules he imposes on others is one of the most reliable types in politics. He’s the reason big government will always yield worse inequality than small. Each and every time, you end up with two classes, those who capture and profit off of the state and those who get told to eat their legumes.
It’s why there will always be an Andrew Cuomo, just as there will always be a billionaire mayor smirking as he lands his personal helicopter in violation of his own noise regulations, a Caribbean strongman who extols the poor from a balcony before retreating to his own personal dolphinarium, an apparatchik motoring around in a luxury car. Such is the crooked timber of humanity, or crooked sandalwood in Gavin Newsom’s case. Given a strong state, liberty and luxury will trickle up. And the temptation to break annoying laws will always prove strongest among those who think they’re powerful enough to get away with it.
It’s why, while at least some of our present pandemic rules are necessary, they’re also patently un-American. The sooner we get past all this, the better, say I. Godspeed Pfizer and Moderna, even if saying that makes me want to hose myself down in isopropyl. As for Governor Cuomo, let’s not let him off the hook so easily. It isn’t his comparatively minor Turkey Day hypocrisy that ought to make him the least popular New York hire since Adam Gase; it’s all the other inequities his downstate-myopic governance has produced. This is the man who banned fracking throughout New York, leaving some upstate border towns so economically desperate that they considered seceding to Pennsylvania. It’s the man who during a pandemic thought it would be a sharp idea to sequester elderly COVID-19 patients into nursing homes, where at least 7,000 of them have died so far.
It’s the man who asked for and promptly received a Navy hospital ship called the USNS Comfort. The sight of the white vessel with the red cross pulling into a Manhattan harbor felt like the triumphant end to some video game level. Congratulations! You escorted the doctors past the Sino-Russian terrorists and saved the city! Except government is never just point-and-click and Cuomo forgot the cut-red-tape combo. The Comfort sat in the harbor for weeks, mostly unused, ensnared in bureaucracy, before finally turning around and leaving New York. It had treated fewer than 200 patients.
It was a damning image, though—and it’s here we arrive at the nut of the problem—it’s nothing against a mouthy Democrat who rails against the president. Cuomo might have failed, 34,000 New Yorkers might have died, but the media that covers him is terminally addicted to catnip. And Cuomo provides what they want most: a foil to Donald Trump, a garrulous tough with similarly hard vowels who believes in Science™ (science is something you believe in now). Hence the slapdash book deal, the ludicrous Emmy award, the Democratic convention speaking slot. It’s all very lucrative, if you aren’t in a U-haul flooring the pedal to Connecticut.
Hypocrisy and error can always be airbrushed away if only you’re willing to be a little superficial. As for the rest of us, we’re just hoping the Matildas of the world don’t have to cancel Christmas.
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