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Gavin Newsom’s big moment

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THE BACKDROP

California Governor Gavin Newsom gave his State of the State address last night. In advance, all the pundits called it the speech of his life. With his governorship on the line due to a recall that will likely make the ballot this Fall, they said, Newsom had to convince voters that he deserves to be kept in the job they hired him to do in 2018. The speech was delivered live on CSPAN.

He gave his speech against the backdrop of good news on the COVID front. All the numbers are trending in the right direction. This, in itself, helped to numb the recallers’ allegations: that his pandemic response has been a disaster. That is Republican propaganda, pure and simple. Newsom has run into the same problems as have the governors of all other states, and the leaders of innumerable foreign countries around the world. It has been a question of whether or not the majority of Californians have understood Newsom’s fairly harsh shutting down of the state, with all the dire economic consequences that has entailed, and the admittedly uneven vaccine rollout. I believe that most voters do understand why Newsom had to do what he did.

THE SPEECH

After boring platitudes from three other state leaders (why was it necessary for them to hog the limelight? This was the Governor’s time), Newsom began his remarks, delivered at an empty Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. His theme was eulogizing the heroes who have fought the pandemic on its front lines, and memorializing the 55,000 Californians who so far have died from COVID. “We are California,” he said, reminding us that California was the first state in the nation to issue stay-at-home orders.

Yes, there was a defensiveness to Newsom’s remarks, as well there should have been given the attacks he’s experienced. It’s so easy to Monday-morning quarterback everything. Republicans have jumped all over him for every little setback. Newsom acknowledged that “We have made mistakes. I have made mistakes.” Who hasn’t? But “The state of our state remains determined. I remain determined,” he declared. “We’re not going to come crawling back. We will be roaring back.”

Of course, he praised California—the target of derision from so many red state Republicans envious that Mississippi or Alabama cannot boast California’s achievements. From our cultural leadership, to Silicon Valley’s dominance in technology, to our agricultural contributions that put food on Americans’ tables, to NASA’s recent Mars landing, Newsom reminded his critics that they write California off at their peril. His speech was short on policy specifics, deliberately: no one was in the mood to hear wonkiness. But it was long on COVID. As someone who, just yesterday, got my second vaccine shot, I can testify to how uneven the rollout was. It was frustrating and maddening, and I, too, wanted someone to blame. But now, after three months, California has figured out how to do it, and for that, I give credit to my Governor, and to the Federal government.

Newsom quoted Dr. Fauci in defending his shutdown order. “I acknowledge that it’s made life hard,” he said in understatement. Unsaid was the implication: What would you have done? And he promised “immediate stimulus” to “millions and millions of Californians.” This is in addition to Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, hundreds of billions of which will flow to California. If government can’t help us when we’re struggling, then what good is government?

It was a brave, articulate speech. In my 40 years in this state, no one has better expressed his love of California and belief in its virtues and possibilities. The Governor evidently has heard the criticisms that his speeches are impenetrable in jargon; this one was far more accessible. I admit to being a Newsom supporter. But I am not a blind slave, the way so many Trumpers are to their fuehrer. If I thought our Governor was lacking, I would say so. But he’s done a fine job under impossible circumstances. If liberalism without extremism is possible in America, it is embodied in Gavin Newsom.

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