If there’s anyone whose faux modesty I’m most likely to see right through it is that of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who published a book on handling the pandemic in his state while it was very much still happening. It’s been months since the book’s release, and lo and behold: New York is currently mounting its third wave.
As you might expect, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic is full of self-aggrandizement and more or less devoid of admissions of failure or missteps. “Readers will search in vain for phrases such as ‘on second thought,’ or ‘if I had it to do over again,’” E.J. McMahon wrote in a January review for City Journal.
But had any of these phrases appeared in the final version of the book, they would have inevitably come across as disingenuous, laughable even. I know because I guffawed when I read this line from a draft of the book, which was obtained by the New York Times: “I have experience and a skill set that qualifies me as a good governor,” Cuomo wrote. “I have accomplished by any objective standard more than any governor in modern history. But I am not a superhero.”
What makes the line so amusing (to me at least) is that American Crisis would not exist were it not that Cuomo saw himself as such; the whole point of the book is to convince us of this very thing, that he is a superhero.
From what I can tell Cuomo’s self-important idea of himself permeated every part of the writing process. According to the Times, Cuomo wrote the book partly by recording dictations on his cellphone, which aides were sometimes asked to transcribe. Other assistants printed out parts of the book and delivered them to Cuomo in his Albany mansion. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa—who helped cover up the state’s nursing home deaths in an official report—reportedly attended meetings with publishers and assisted with editing.
An early draft of the book also included a tirade against New York Mayor Bill de Blasio filled with characteristically petty insults that went on for three pages. “My popular rating in New York City has always been higher than his,” Cuomo wrote of de Blasio in the draft. Cuomo went on to accuse de Blasio of being a political opportunist suffering from “obvious ego driven narcissism.”
Imagining Cuomo speaking these words into the Voice Memos app on his phone while tens of thousands of people in his state died of covid fills me with unspeakable rage. It is a small consolation that the publisher of American Crisis has stopped promoting the book and has “no plans” to release it in paperback, but it’s absurd that it was written at all.