Blog Archive

Blog Archive – October, 2020

What Can Americans Learn from New York’s Shrewd Governor, Andrew Cuomo? Part 1

October 28, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

            Day 240 of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US; anxious New Yorkers are again invited to hear about changing conditions in their state and what the governor’s doing to protect them. Monday’s press briefing must be his 150th review of the stubborn unsettling disease.

            Cuomo’s updates are a cleverly woven tapestry: political analysis, admonishments, comprehensive statistical reports, warnings, evasions of reporters’ questions, and affirmations of his administration’s successes are touched up with a personal anecdote and an attempt at humor. These briefings deserve attention not because they’re contrived to pave his way to any future bid for the White House, but as an effective and (on the whole) exemplary management of the terrifying and still uncontrollable pandemic.

            Cuomo’s homilies these past months are worth some critical attention from scholars of rhetoric. These discourses are also valuable in how they contrast with statements by other politicians, incumbents and challengers in the coming election, that saturate our media.

            Like Cuomo’s press conferences during the scary, hard months of spring and summer, Monday’s briefing was, admittedly, a kind of speech— a combination of legal acumen, moral appeal, politics and emotion. By and large it works. I think that’s because like most Americans, I’ve been stressed and confused by this raging disease charging among us along an unknown path, and we are all in search for some calming, practical guidance.

            I began listening to the governor’s daily reports in March. I asked neighbors for their opinions of Cuomo’s efforts. Whatever their political persuasion, most shared my positive feelings.

            Before you admonish us for being uncritical and ignorant of Cuomo’s history, I admit that I agree with the widespread view that he’s shrewd; he evades responsibility for mistakes made and these frequent public appearances may be opportunistic on his part.

            That said, I still tuned in to Cuomo’s recent briefing. Besides feeling better informed by this decision, I’m somewhat assured that New Yorkers at least have a chance of negotiating this disease. (Where else can we find hope?) I also grasp and appreciate the pattern of Cuomo’s discourse. It’s in striking contrast to anything proffered by the staggering quantification of the disease’s history in country-by-country comparisons, in daily medical speculations and policy debates or journalists’ analyses. Yes, Cuomo’s briefings are political; yes, he’s showing off; yes, he’s somewhat arrogant; and yes, this could be planned with his eye on a future White House bid.

            But you have to give it to him; he has management skills beyond his media appeal, beyond the abilities of Biden or Pelosi, Sanders or Harris to expose the current administration’s incompetence. Cuomo also displays a convincing compassion for our woes; he seems to possess an ability unmatched by others to calm a stressed-out, anchorless American public.

            Isn’t it worth trying to understand how he does this?  

            Cuomo seems to have developed a formula: he mixes a little humor with some outrage; he praises our struggling, essential workers while remembering everyone’s suffering; he analyzes and explains the fundamentals of pandemic management (e.g. his opening-and-closing-the-valve analogy); he presents us with skillfully arrayed, digestible scientific facts.

            He regularly appeals to our patriotism and our intelligence—“Don't underestimate the American people”, he repeats, even declaring America is the greatest country, (with New Yorkers the smartest of all!), and ends by running the gambit of strident questions from reporters. It’s brilliant, you have to admit.

            By now you’re ready to chastise my editor for allowing a writer to praise any American politician.     

            Hold on; these commendations do not exclude my recognition of Cuomo’s misdemeanors and crimes. There’s plenty of muck to throw at the governor—e.g. the dreadful mishandling of nursing home placements in the early days of Covid-19’s crisis. Look how he evades Trevor Noah’s persistent charges-- an artful lawyer through and through. END Part 1

[ What Can Americans Learn from New York’s Shrewd Governor, Andrew Cuomo? Part 1 ]


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