Like the buffoonish commanding officer in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, Gavin Newsom for many represents “the very model of a modern Major-General,” filling the expectations of the progressive political elite. Handsome, articulate, and politically savvy, Newsom has emerged as the new matinee idol, in stark contrast to Joe Biden’s poor ratings, clear cognitive decline, and increasing stench of corruption.
With the looming threat of a second Trump presidency, Democrats and many others are desperate to find someone who appears somewhat competent while embracing progressive dogma on issues like climate, racial reparations, and gender. Biden has adopted this same agenda, but his basic appeal and instincts remain those of a traditional spoils-oriented Democrat.
The shift to Newsom parallels a deeper tendency in the party. Joe Biden wears his dubious working-class roots on his sleeve, while Newsom has emerged as the coddled child of what the Los Angeles Times described as “a coterie of San Francisco’s wealthiest families,” most particularly the Getty family, which financed his business ventures, allegedly paid for his first lavish wedding, and helped launch his political career. As former California assembly speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown suggests, “he came from their world, and that’s why they embraced him without hesitancy and over and above everybody else,” he told the Times. “They didn’t need to interview him. They knew what he stood for.”
The Rise and Pitfalls of the Upstairs, Downstairs Coalition
As Ruy Texeira and John Judis write in their new book, Where Have All the Democrats Gone? Democrats are less and less the party of the working class, small farmers, and business owners and increasingly the voice of public employees, rent-seeking professionals, and the oligarchic class and their richly-funded non-profits. Rather than economic growth—widely viewed with suspicion by the greens—the new focus is on issues like climate, transgender “rights,” and racial retribution.
Newsom’s success, and that of the Democrats in Blue America, lies in a political dynamic that unites these groups. They constitute what was first characterized by the late Fred Siegel as “the upstairs, downstairs coalition” based on an odd alignment of the wealthy, the public sector, educated professionals, and the poor against the less-organized, fading middle class. This alliance has grown in part as a reaction to Trump, who has destroyed the prospects of the GOP in much of the country, as well as the relentless yammering of environmental and “social justice” advocates.
Like aristocrats of the past, Newsom tries to play the masses, enhancing an already elaborate welfare state while offering huge raises to public employees and subsidies for companies engaged in the “energy transition.” This approach has fostered the California model for neo-feudal America, a place characterized by extreme wealth alongside the nation’s highest poverty rate, as well as the widest gap between middle- and upper-middle income earners of any state. California’s “progressive” political economy defies traditional views of the Left. According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, 20 percent of wealth is held within 30 zip codes that account for just two percent of the state’s population. Less than 33 percent of state wealth is held within 1,350 zip codes that house 75 percent of Californians. Since the seventies, California middle-class incomes, once ebullient, have stagnated.
Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
Homepage photo: Gage Skidmore, CC 2.0 License. via Flickr.