Newsom’s Biggest Opponents Are the Progressive Fantasies of Presidential Candidates

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Gavin Newsom is off to a strong start as governor, with little opposition to his agenda.

But he’s about to come up against an opponent that will be much stubborn:
Progressive fantasy.

Specifically, those progressive fantasies that are advanced during the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Newsom, as a governor, has to live within a budget and California’s many limits on governance. But the Democrats running for president don’t operate under such restrictions. So while Newsom makes important and modest progress on health care or other liberal priorities, his work will look small and weak compare to the grandiose proposals of Democratic presidential contenders.

Newsom might try to tackle tax reform, which is necessary to produce more and more stable revenues for the state. But anything he offers will look paltry compared to Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax, or Bernie Sanders’ schemes. And the comparison will make it harder for Newsom to convince Democratic lawmakers and voters to get on board. He could be easily painted as a neoliberal.

Or in health care, Newsom’s moves to boost Obamacare and extend health insurance to young adults including the undocumented are significant steps in the California context. But they look tiny compared to the presidential candidates for ending private health insurance and adopting Medicare for All. Some on the left will ask why they should support Newsom’s smaller, practical steps when bigger change is also on the agenda.

Sure, Newsom will try to explain the realities of governance publicly. But don’t bet on him and on reality. The hard fact is that, in these times, progressive fantasy will beat reality over and over.

Good luck, Gavin.

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