Special Briefing: How COVID-19 Is Helping Local Leaders Shine
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because countries aren’t just governed from the capital.
By Dan Peleschuk
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? For weeks now, the coronavirus pandemic has stoked tensions in the U.S. between the White House and governors left to run their states in the absence of federal direction. But America isn’t alone: Around the world, regional leaders are stepping up to seize the initiative from central governments they believe aren’t pulling their weight, or worse, in fighting the outbreak.
Why does it matter? These crisis-era dynamics could shape the relationship between states and central governments for years to come. And while national leaders from the U.S. to Brazil to Pakistan have seized the global spotlight in recent years, local leaders may now be the ones collecting the most valuable hands-on experience — and national attention that could fuel their political careers.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
All politics is local. By now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a household name. It’s not just his no-B.S. briefings: He’s also finding ways to manage the crisis in his resource-starved state, which has clocked 132,000 infections, while also handling an oft-equivocating President Donald Trump. His Republican counterpart in Ohio, Mike DeWine, is another standout, having led the way on canceling large gatherings — including shutting down a major event before his state had even registered a single case. Taken together, experts say, it could refocus public attention on governors as local problem-solvers after years of nearly blanket coverage of national politics.
Active resistance. While Trump has swung back and forth on the threat posed by the coronavirus, Brazil’s controversial president has been consistent in openly downplaying it. Referring to it once as “a little flu,” populist firebrand Jair Bolsonaro is urging his fellow citizens to head back to work. But Brazilian governors — all but three of the country’s 27 regional leaders, in fact — aren’t having it: They’ve banded together against his administration, ordering their own lockdowns and mobilizing resources in whichever ways they can. “He has put us in an impossible position,” São Paulo Gov. João Doria told TIME, adding that governors “have never been as united.” Now, with Bolsonaro facing growing calls for impeachment, it’s the worst possible time for the leader to be isolated.
Boots on the ground. Although he’s shuttered schools and halted international travel, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been wary of fully shutting down his country. Muslim clerics across the country, powerful enough to require appeasement from Khan, have gone even further by brazenly flouting calls to restrict prayer gatherings. But in Pakistan, too, provincial leaders are stepping up — with some armed assistance. The military has stepped in to enforce lockdowns declared by local governments, setting up checkpoints and busting up large crowds.
Future plans. Moments of crisis have often helped local leaders shine. Consider, for instance, how the 9/11 attacks propelled then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to national prominence. There was a similar bump in the wake of the devastating Gujarat earthquake of 2001, when current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was then the regional head of government. The same narratives may well be playing out as the coronavirus rages on: In the U.S., there’s already plenty of buzz about Cuomo’s shot as a presidential contender. And in Pakistan, where the military is widely seen as the real power behind the throne, its support could strengthen local leaders dreaming of bigger roles.
WHAT TO READ
A Little-Known Democratic Governor Is Breaking Out in Kentucky, by Ryan Grim in The Intercept
“[Andy] Beshear became one of the first governors in the country to treat the coronavirus pandemic with the seriousness it deserves.”
Coronavirus Crisis Makes It Clear Who Is Calling the Shots in Pakistan —Military, Of Course, by Ayesha Siddiqa in The Print
“Khan proved unable to rise to the occasion that critics believe indicate his political and intellectual limitation.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Brother Chris Talk Coronavirus
“I’ve never seen you work harder than now.”
Watch on CBS News on YouTube:
COVID-19: Brazil’s Bolsonaro Is Putting ‘Lives in Danger’
“What I keep asking myself is: ‘Will he be held accountable?’”
Watch on Al Jazeera English on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Join the party. In countries with strong parliamentary systems, such as Lebanon, the coronavirus crisis has also presented a prime opportunity for political parties to prove their mettle. Sure, militant powerhouse Hezbollah wields the lion’s share of resources in the cash-strapped country — but many other groups across Lebanon’s diverse political and religious spectrum are spearheading their own aid initiatives to curry favor with citizens.
- Dan Peleschuk