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Biden’s Californian successors would be terrible for America

The future of the Democratic Party does not lie in the hands of Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. Credit: Getty

July 2, 2024 - 4:00pm

Two Californians, Governor Gavin Newsom and Vice President Kamala Harris, are widely seen as the most likely successors to doddering President Joe Biden. But, as things stand, one has to wonder if the rest of America really yearns to become a greater California.

Embracing “the California model” may have worked when Ronald Reagan rode on his white horse, or even when Jerry Brown projected a future shaped by technology and space exploration. But with the current crop of leaders in charge, the model is a sure loser.

The facts are grim. Newsom and Harris may like to claim California’s preeminence as the hotbed of new ideas, racial justice, and economic progress, but that has little to do with reality. California suffers from the highest poverty rates in the US, tepid job growth and some of the country’s highest rates of unemployment. Once the supreme beacon for talented people from around the country and the world, it is coming to terms with its new problem of massive net emigration, an exodus that has increased sharply since 2019 — the year Newsom became governor — and was made worse by the pandemic. The state has, however, attracted one group: it now has 30% of the nation’s homeless population.

When it comes to education, California was once an admired leader. The state primary school system is now ranked consistently among the worst in the country. Despite being the “home” of social justice, the results are particularly poor for minority students. For example, Californian Hispanics, who make up roughly 40% of the overall population, do far worse when it comes to educational attainment than their Latino counterparts in Right-leaning states such as Texas and Florida. This has a huge impact on potential earnings in later life.

California is also a great example of how not to rebuild America’s shoddy infrastructure. The rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has seen costs rise from an estimated $250 million in 1995 to $6.5 billion in September 2013. Or take the California high-speed rail line, which Newsom has refused to abandon despite costs that have escalated from $33 billion in 2008 to as much as $100 billion today.

How about climate policy, which has dominated the agenda under Newsom? It’s had negligible impact on warming but has done a fair job of undermining the prospects of the state’s largely Latino working class. Even without adjusting for costs, no California metro area ranks in the US top 10 in terms of well-paying, blue-collar jobs. But four — Ventura, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego — sit among the bottom 10.

These are the facts that naturally haunt either of these candidates. Newsom and Harris may be able to fool the star-struck reporters of the mainstream media into waxing about the state’s current status, but Californians know better. In one recent opinion survey, some 57% said the state was headed in the wrong direction, up from 37% in 2020. Four in 10 are considering an exit.

To make things worse, the two California claimants come from San Francisco, a once magnificent city that is now the poster child for urban dysfunction. Newsom was mayor and Harris the district attorney. Here, Newsom promised to wipe out homelessness, which has become worse, and Harris promised to take on crime, another striking failure. The state now suffers its highest crime rate in a decade.

Lack of achievement and incompetence is one thing. But these two figures have awful political personas to boot. A candidate of the gentry, Newsom is already increasingly unpopular in California, and it’s hard to believe he would be a good sell almost anywhere east of the Sierra. Harris is simply an awful politician, with little in her favour other than her mixed-minority racial origin. Neither candidate polls better, and they even sometimes poll worse than the great dodderer.

Harris and Newsom both have the advantage of not being senile. But their California pedigree is certainly no asset. If you want to look to the future, it’s hard to see why you would choose people who have taken arguably the most blessed corner of North America and turned it into a national disgrace.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
23 days ago

Biden, even in his current reduced state, is a better candidate and more likely to win the election than either of these two. Polling on a hypothetical match between Trump and either Harris or Newsome shows him with a significant lead, even before third parties are taken into account. The presence of RFK Jr. in this race and his family history with the Democratic party complicates the situation by giving any Democrat dissatisfied with Biden being pushed aside, or dissatisfied with whoever replaces him, an obvious alternative.
The Democrats only hope to replace Biden and actually win are a couple of hail marys that may or may not even be possible. If Michelle Obama is willing to run (and all evidence says she isn’t), she has a good chance of winning. If the Democrats are willing to eat their hats and reconcile with RFK Jr., they would likely gain an immediate advantage over Trump and a good chance of winning in November, but it’s not at all clear that either side would be amenable to such a fence mending. The establishment types and big donors hate RFK nearly as much as they hate Trump, Sanders, or any other politician who bucks the establishment line and refuses to cater to the global aristocracy. Their only hope beyond these two unlikely possibilities is to bypass Harris and Newsom, nominate a Democratic governor of a Red/Purple state, hope that bypassing Harris doesn’t upset the black vote, and hope that Trump is unpopular enough to essentially lose to an empty space with a D next to the name. He might be that unpopular.
I can’t bring myself to have much sympathy for them. They’ve made their own bed. They always knew that Biden, were he still in possession of his full faculties, was the best candidate. He was in 2020 and he still would be today were it not for the ravages of father time. He’s also the incumbent, and incumbents have a well documented advantage in American politics. Historically, more Presidents are re-elected than not among those who choose to and are able to run a second time. They had to know he wasn’t capable. Maybe they didn’t know just how bad he would look in the debate, but they had to know he was not up to what he used to be. If they were determined to run him, they shouldn’t have put him in that position, and if they felt they had to agree to some debates, they shouldn’t have run him. Instead they chose to roll the dice and hope for the best. Always a risk you’ll roll snake eyes.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
23 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Father Time didn’t increase our food and fuel prices by over 30% (and more, in California), significantly harming the poor and the working middle classes.
Nor does he lead a party that wishes to both abolish the police and use the legal system to hamstring political opponents, while censoring social media posts.
He didn’t pledge to “end fossil fuels,” nor did he nominate radicals (including a former eco-terrorist as well as a Russian-American communist) to prominent agency roles, nor did he send FBI agents after pro-life Catholics and parents at school board meetings.
Father T’s bungling State Department wasn’t pro-Iran, nor was it in at least two cases infiltrated by Iranian intelligence assets, nor did his State Department oversee the outbreak of two major regional wars.
Biden’s administration quite literally did do all of these things, while his predecessor, for all of his glaring faults, did none of them..

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
23 days ago

You’re right. The Biden administration did all those things, but I can’t blame Biden personally since he’s clearly not competent to be held responsible for much of anything. I have no idea who actually runs the Biden administration at this point. Clearly the Pentagon and the MIC have been given free reign over foreign policy and empowered to conduct the opening volleys of Cold War 2.0 with China. I suspect if anyone has final say over administration decisions, it’s probably some secret and unnamed Pentagon committee. Outside that, Biden’s appointees over the various pieces of the sprawling bureaucracy are probably all doing their own thing, knowing they can get away with it because Biden is too senile to effectively rein them in, assuming he even knows what’s going on. Some of them are indeed quite radical as you say, appointed to appease some of the more fringe political constituencies that make up the Democratic party. Patronage, political favors, and factionalism go back to the founding of the republic, and there’s every reason to believe that history will continue.
To be fair, some of what you quote is talking points crafted to win voters that I doubt the administration actually believes, though maybe one or two appointees do and are using their aforementioned lack of oversight to push their agendas. “End fossil fuels” is a slogan on a bumper sticker, not a policy. He’s done very little to actually end fossil fuels besides trying to push EVs. I think a lot of that push comes from auto makers who thought it would give them an angle to increase vehicle sales and a much needed injection of cash. Planned obsolescence of anything is almost always a corporate scheme to force people to buy new stuff rather than repair and service existing stuff, funneling money to the huge corporations that make most physical products. The Democrats are still trying to sell the illusion that the ‘free market’ can encourage people to switch to EVs and selling their efforts to that effect to climate change obsessed voters, an important Democratic constituency without courting the really divisive policies that would be required to actually, maybe, reduce emissions, like banning gas automobiles altogether. Angling to use forced obsolescence to coerce people into EVs will get some more EVs sold, but there’s no way it will ever convert everyone. Any attempt to actually do that would be fought every step of the way and likely result in the end of many political careers. Most politicians won’t make that sacrifice, but words cost nothing. Some things are easier to say than to do, and there’s little to lose from the saying but much to lose in the doing.

Martin M
Martin M
22 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The Democrats have done some stupid things of late, but I can’t imagine them taking leave of their senses to a sufficient extent to “reconcile with RFK Jr”.

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
22 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

RFK? Did he eat the dog before or after his brain was eaten by worms?

charlie martell
charlie martell
21 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

He clearly was not up to it in 2020. He was very well managed, kept out of the way, and nursed through the whole campaign by his wife. An extremely helpful media played along, in many ways.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
22 days ago

The real long-term question is how much true power can be wrested from what Niall Ferguson calls the “Donorcratic Party”. By that he refers to the true power behind Democrats and Progressives. These are very, very wealthy–and often obscure–powerful elites; they occupy most of the Board seats in Big Academia, legacy Media and, to an increasing extent, Big Business and Finance. They are the people with the ability to reward politicians like the Clintons and Obamas, who come to them virtually penniless and end up fabulously wealthy after doing their bidding. They are also served by an army of deep-state orcs who have traded their souls for a government pension and proximity to power. Getting rid of the latter is like trying to rid NYC’s sewers of rats.

The recent kerfuffles of antisemitism and drooling Biden have disturbed the tranquility of the Ubermensch Valhalla, as did the advent of political Trump and Covid. Will it end in their Ragnarok? It remains to be seen whether the Masters of the Universe have the power to induce the collective amnesia that typically descends over the American consciousness when the novelty of a news cycle begins to bore us. If so, it will not be Harris or Newsom to fear but some young and relatively unknown mid-level politician–like young Bill Clinton or young Barak Obama–who the masters will anoint and present to us in an aura of compelling freshness. Whoever it is will promise us our noblest aspirations while they turn tricks for the well-heeled pimps who run them until they retire to their estates in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, or Aspen.

Martin M
Martin M
22 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Am I missing something? Doesn’t the GOP have wealthy donors too?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
22 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

It does, but they have lost control of the party completely to Trump and his supporters. There is now a big difference between the Republicans and the Democrats which is not to say that the former are particularly coherent and have many of the right answers for the US, I need some of them engaging fantasy economics and thinking themselves.

But at least they not going out of their way to propagandize the American population, or at least the white working class part of it, with how awful they are and how guilty and ashamed they should feel, while almost any black criminal is lionized should he come into confrontation with the law.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
22 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Yes of course but fewer in number, not as entrenched in networked self-reinforcing power systems like academia, and not as committed to an orthodox belief system. For an example of the latter look to Elon Musk, who is now loathed by the left but far too eclectic in his far flung beliefs to fit into any variant of organized conservatism. High-wealth non-liberals tend to cherish individualism and consequently are less inclined to group-think and more suspicious of any type of orthodoxy. Therefore, their power does not reinforce each other’s as much politically.

ELLIOTT W STEVENS
ELLIOTT W STEVENS
22 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Your comment is the secret decoder ring of US politics in the modern (post WWII) era. It’s is 100% correct down to the letter.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
22 days ago

Tweedledee and Tweedledumb.

John Pade
John Pade
22 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber.

Martin M
Martin M
22 days ago

One point that needs to be made is that if Newsom and Harris are to be on the same ticket, one of them has to stop being a Californian pronto, because a President and a Vice President cannot be from the same State.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

I actually just double checked that. It is not an outright prohibition, but it would be very unwise to have two Californians on a ticket. Had d**k Cheney not moved to Wyoming prior to the election in which George W Bush came to power, they would have lost to Al Gore.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
22 days ago

Never underestimate the power of the corrupt press to put lipstick on a pig and convince the majority of people who don’t follow the news that their candidate is a beauty contest winner.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
22 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

Are you referring to Liz Cheney? Maybe it’s Maybelline…

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
22 days ago

It’s uncanny how much Newsom looks like a “Batman” villain.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Joe Donovan

I think he looks like a CNN anchor.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Batman villains and CNN anchors occupy the same Venn circle.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
21 days ago
Reply to  Joe Donovan

That’s a straight cop from Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn. Come up with your own shit.

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
21 days ago

Newsom has at least done everything possible to encourage the implementation of self driving cars which will be a huge mobility benefit to many and will reduce accidents in the long run as highways become fully automated.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
21 days ago

All hail the machines!