Newsom can’t be defended, even by his defenders
Poor Ezra Klein.
The New York Times columnist known for his tedious love letters to progressivism has taken up the unenviable task of defending the indefensible: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s record.
Most defenses of Newsom, who is facing a recall, rely on branding the attempt to remove him from office as “Republican,” which is not only smart politics, but also spares anyone the agony of finding examples of what Newsom has improved.
Klein attempts the impossible task by highlighting one measly housing bill, a bunch of half-baked environmental executive orders and a few modest expenditures, like an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanded paid family leave and boosts to child care.
Klein called the Newsom experiment “exciting,” but in the process avoids mentioning any number of persistent problems that have not improved under Newsom’s watch.
Perhaps Klein got his grievances out of his system in February when he wrote a column (which he now ignores almost entirely) titled: “California is making liberals squirm.”
While still squirming before all the excitement began, Klein wrote back then that “California talks a big game on climate change, but even with billions of dollars in federal funding, it couldn’t build high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco,” and “California has the highest poverty rate in the nation,” and “California is dominated by Democrats, but many of the people Democrats claim to care about most can’t afford to live there.”
In other words, he was calling the Democrat-dominated state government incompetent, ineffective and hypocritical.
Fast forward to today and high-speed rail is not any closer to being built and the poverty rate and cost of living both remain unreasonably high. It’s hard to believe this is the same Ezra Klein who thinks recalling Newsom would be “madness.”
Klein jumps through hoops to try to explain how change is coming on the housing front because he can feel it (“the state’s political actors have realized they need to find ways to build … Even the politicians who oppose development have to pretend to favor it”) and wrote with wonderment about legislation that would be the “end of single-family zoning” and applauds one bill in particular allowing homeowners to divide their properties into two lots.
“It won’t solve the housing crisis, but it’s a start,” he wrote.
Perhaps Klein’s boldest claim was that Newsom’s environmental executive orders, which defer all tough decisions into the distant future, amount to “nothing less than a Green New Deal for the Golden State.”
Newsom’s governing philosophy puts headlines above all else (like details and results and all that stuff); his environmental actions strictly adhere to that philosophy and range from the impractical (like a future ban on gas-powered cars for which there is insufficient demand, functionality and infrastructure) to the nonsensical (a future end to oil extraction that does nothing to alleviate demand for oil).
Klein rightly dismisses these far-away goals (“It’s always easier to promise sweeping change in the future”), but later contradicts himself (“you can’t build a different future without planning for it now”).
To recap on housing and the environment, Klein argues to keep Newsom because this exciting experiment is setting environmental goals with no plan to achieve them and is destroying neighborhoods while simultaneously not solving problems.
To Klein, Newsom’s biggest problem is that he’s a victim of his own gifts: His dashing good looks, his wealth and his well-to-do lifestyle, which all make Newsom hard to trust.
“Newsom is handsome in a way that comes off as just a little too coifed, like the actor you’d cast to play a politician in a movie,” Klein writes, adding: “When Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco, his nickname was ‘Mayor McHottie,’ and he came complete with a tabloid-ready personal life and funding from the unimaginably wealthy Getty family.”
Perhaps Klein is right. Perhaps Californians are simply suspicious of someone so perfect.
Or perhaps Californians are suspicious because there’s a big difference between what Newsom says and what actually happens.
As mayor, Newsom said he would solve homelessness in 10 years, but 10 years came and went and homelessness is as pervasive as ever.
As gubernatorial candidate, Newsom said the state would build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025, yet has come nowhere close.
As governor, Newsom said he was focusing on wildfire mitigation, but was found to have been exaggerating his progress by nearly 700%.
So when Newsom says something like one of his plans would “end family homelessness” in California in five years, which he said recently, Californians should be suspicious, no matter his level of coifness.
A defining moment for Newsom was his maskless dinner with lobbyists at the elite French Laundry as most of the state was still burdened with mask mandates and business closures. Voters know when they’re being conned and this incident showed that not even Newsom believes what he says.
In February, Klein wrote: “If progressivism can’t work (in California), why should the country believe it can work anywhere else?”
Nothing has changed since then, so instead of writing fantastical defenses of Newsom, Klein should ask himself if it’s progressivism that’s not working, Newsom, or both.
Matt Fleming is a member of the Southern California News Group’s editorial board. You can follow him on Twitter: @FlemingWords.