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Republicans scapegoat Newsom for their president’s own failures


Poor Gavin Newsom. He just can’t catch a break. He’s been under fire for a while, supposedly due to his COVID response. Republicans are circulating a petition in California to recall him from office. And today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a front page story claiming that even “some Democrats” are “fumed” over what they claim are his “seesaw decisions on coronavirus health directives [that] seem arbitrary.”

I defend our Governor as often as I can, on social media and in letters to the Chronicle. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Gov. Newsom for 30 years and consider him a friend.) What his critics call “arbitrary, seesaw decisions” reflect the fact that Newsom, like all other governors, has had to deal with something brand new; that’s why science calls it the novel coronavirus. It broke upon the world like an asteroid from outer space, with no warning. Every leader has had to scramble to come up with a coherent response, not just in our 50 states but in nearly every country in the world, from the industrialized nations of Europe to emerging countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

I don’t know why anyone should have expected Gov. Newsom’s responses to be perfect. Yes, it’s true that he shut things down, then reopened them, then shut them down again, then reopened them. This drives small businesses crazy. Yes, there’s utter confusion regarding the vaccine. Newsom issues rules on a statewide basis, but then individual counties issue their own rules, and individual healthcare providers in those counties come up with their own rules. It’s a horrible situation. But you can’t blame it on Newsom.

I blame one person, and one person only, for this cataclysm, and you know who he is. From the beginning, trump lied about the severity of COVID. He never pretended to accept responsibility for a federal response; instead, he foisted it off on the states. What did anyone expect? It’s as if, following 9/11, President Bush announced that the U.S. government would not lead a national response, but that instead, each state would be responsible for its own defense and foreign policy. That would have been insane, of course; why isn’t it insane for trump to have avoided all responsibility for COVID?

Politics being what they are, Newsom’s enemies—which is to say, Republicans—are taking advantage of California’s current grumpiness. No matter that these are the same Republicans that defended trump from day one, and continue to insist that he won the election in a landslide. They’re out there at shopping centers with their little petitions, and many people who are pissed off and frustrated by the business closures (which is most of us) are signing up to recall the Governor. It’s so nice to have a scapegoat to blame.

Yet that’s what Newsom is: a scapegoat. It’s likely, in my judgment, that the Republicans will collect enough signatures to force a special recall election, perhaps in March or April. But I doubt that a majority of Californians will actually fire him (the way they fired Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, when he was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger).

It’s possible, I suppose, but things are getting better in California with COVID; even as I write these words, Newsom lifted the statewide shelter-in-place order (for the third time), allowing outdoor dining and personal services to resume. Republicans, of course, immediately criticized even that; they’re saying Newsom did it only to deflect the recall. Newsom called that charge out for what it is: bullshit (my word, not his). Newsom is a policy wonk, and he bases his decisions on facts. The statistical truth is that intensive care unit (ICU) capacity is suddenly improving, following the holiday COVID surge, and Newsom’s shelter-in-place orders have always been based on ICU capacity. But Republicans, true to their nature (and following the pathological lying of their Fuehrer), love to disregard facts, and to twist and distort reality to their own advantage. This is exactly what they’re doing to Newsom.

There aren’t always neat, tidy solutions to monumental problems. Like the Cold War, World War II, the Great Depression, or 9/11, COVID is something we have to stumble our way through, doing our best, occasionally making mistakes, learning from our missteps, and trying again. I see Gov. Newsom doing the very best he can, using his great intelligence at every decision point to discern the smartest way forward. I doubt very much that any of his critics could have done any better, and most would have done far worse. If ever there was a time for all Californians to unite, it’s now. But these Republicans aren’t interested in unification, or in beating COVID, or in truth. All they want is to drive a telegenic governor from office. It’s the same kind of behavior we saw from Cruz and Hawley in the Senate. Deplorable.

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