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Leadership is better than playacting dumb ideas of leadership


Washington’s COVID response has arguably been the best in the country; it’s certainly in the top 5. New York’s COVID death rate is the second-worst among the 50 states, ranking behind numerous Republican-controlled states whose policy for months had been ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. While there are numerous reasons for this, as Ryan Cooper observes Washington having a quietly competent governor rather than a loudly inept one is one of the most important:

Rebecca Traister wrote a long profile of Cuomo for New York this week, now that his political career is in shambles. What she found was that his awful personality and appalling record of failure are not unrelated. On the contrary, he is a terrible, incompetent governor who got tens of thousands of people killed because he is a domineering bully and control freak. But just like Trump on The Apprentice, Cuomo was pretty good at playing Mr. Competent Governor on television — especially on superficial local news, where as Alex Pareene points out at The New Republic, the conventions of the form basically rule out any exploration of his horrible record, because it would be too complicated.

By all accounts, Inslee’s political personality is basically the opposite of Cuomo’s. Inslee did not inherit his political prominence from his father as Cuomo did, he worked his way up from a modest profile: from the Washington state legislature, to the House of Representatives, to the governorship of Washington. He has a fairly conventional Democratic Party record (except for climate change, where he has been an evangelist for decades), but profilers report that the climb has given him some perspective and humility. He also appears to be basically a decent guy — at the least, there have not been dozens of stories from former staffers complaining about being constantly abused.

Whatever the reason, Inslee did not treat the pandemic as an opportunity for preening in front of the cameras constantly or to prove his dominance over the state. He did give regular press briefings, but in the process often deferred to scientists and other officials to lend some additional nonpartisan credibility. Instead of starting snarling slap-fights with the mayor of his state’s largest city, he worked closely with her to coordinate messaging and policy. Instead of driving out his top public health officials, he set up a pandemic control center with them so the virus could be monitored and resources efficiently allocated. And he did not write a book boasting about how great he was before a single vaccine had been delivered.

That’s what basic professionalism and competence looks like — a frankly kind of boring dude who works well with others, listens to experts, and doesn’t view absolutely everything on Earth through the lens of “how can I make this about me?”

Cuomo’s political success has been based on the idea that being a jerk gets political results. He says it in his own book: “Show me a person who is not controlling, and I’ll show you a person who is probably not highly successful.” Forty-five thousand New Yorkers and New Jerseyans would dispute this definition of “highly successful,” if they were still alive.

Comparing Cuomo and Inslee is the ultimate example of wjts’s dictum that “the myth of “He’s an asshole, but he gets results” frequently leads both to people incorrectly believing that you need to be an asshole to get results and to people incorrectly believing that because someone’s an asshole, they must be getting results.”

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