The Real Reason Behind the Gavin Newsom Recall?

GELFAND’S WORLD--Pardon my getting a wee bit cynical here, but I suspect that there are a couple of reasons for the recall attempt, and they aren't that he went out to dinner one night without a face mask.

(And was seen in the presence of a dozen or so other people instead of the legally prescribed number.) After all, there were the Trump rallies which involved thousands of yelling, maskless supporters and an equally maskless commander in chief. And there was that gathering in Sturgess, South Dakota of an estimated 450,000 motorcycle enthusiasts. But now the Republicans are circulating the petition for the recall. Hypocrisy much, guys? 

No, it isn't the fact that the governor went out to dinner one night. I suspect that it's a couple of things, and they aren't any high-minded desire for good government. 

First of all, the California Republican Party has suffered a long run of losing big at the state level. In the last gubernatorial election, Newsom beat their candidate (does anybody even remember who it was?) by an enormous margin. Hint: The opponent was one of the guys who is now supporting the recall effort and would like to be a candidate. Another hint: No Republican running for any of the statewide offices got more than 38.1% of the vote. 

There was one candidate for the Board of Equalization who eked out a 51.4% victory and another Board of Equalization candidate who got to 47.8% in a losing effort, but the Board is divided into regions and does not represent a statewide consensus. So even in these big district level elections, the word Republican next to your name was -- four times out of five -- the kiss of death. 

The Republicans in this state are in a long-term drought when it comes to collecting votes. To their credit, they did manage to win back three congressional seats this year that they had lost in the blue landslide of 2018, but that was more like a semi-return to normality than anything groundbreaking. After all, two of those seats are in Orange County. 

What's left for them but to fantasize about the way they recalled Gray Davis back in 2003? By the way, Republicans have attempted recalls in this state a number of times over the past several decades, and at one point, they were talking about attempting recalls almost as soon as they could start the process after losing in the general election. 

It's a fantasy -- you might analogize it to a sort of narcissistic personality disorder where candidates cannot imagine that they could lose if the election were honest. (Remind you of anyone?) 

So, people with money and more ambition than is legitimized by their true-life lack of popularity are funding the attempt. They may very well get the signatures they need, because in this state of more than 30 million people, they only need 1.5 million legitimate signatures to get a recall on the ballot. In practice, they will want to get something close to 2 million signatures because some will inevitably be disqualified when they are checked against the voter rolls. But we may end up seeing an election asking whether the governor shall be recalled. It's the Republican version of a wet dream. 

The deeper, darker version of why they want to recall Gavin Newsom 

The senior senator from California, Diane Feinstein, is 87 years old, going on 88. It's true that U.S. senators have often stayed in office as long as they were able to make it to the Senate Chamber. One senator -- Clair Engle of California -- famously was wheeled into the senate after surgery on his brain tumor in order to vote in favor of the civil rights act. But age eventually catches up with people, and this is true for senators and common folk alike. And there has been a recent movement (certainly among Republicans) towards retirement at a normal age. 

Diane Feinstein could conceivably leave office by retirement, or she could suffer a career ending illness. In that case, the governor of California would have the right to appoint a replacement, just as he did in appointing Alex Padilla to fill Kamala Harris's seat. 

So suppose the voters of California could be persuaded that Gavin Newsom -- that guy who goes to The French Laundry for dinner -- has to go? They could sneak one of their conservative candidates into the winner's circle and in one fell swoop take back the United States Senate -- if DiFi retires or leaves office for any reason. 

I wonder whatever else could be inspiring the anti-Newsom insiders. Yeah, I understand that they aren't happy with government by Democrats, and the difficulties of the Covid-19 precautions has worn people down. But these are just excuses. 

And yes, I understand that owners of bars and restaurants have been hurt badly and are angry. But we have also just ridden through enough illness to result in half a million dead Americans in less than one year. And let's be brutally honest about this one other thing: It's the Trump supporters who marched around without masks and did their best to give people the idea that the epidemic wasn't all that dangerous. 

Hypocrisy, anyone? 

The one other thing they have on Newsom is the unemployment check scandal. It's a legitimate complaint, but I suspect that it hasn't resonated all that well with the average voter. 

Anyway, the television ads pretty well write themselves should this recall make it to the ballot. Open on the rioters storming the nation’s capital, and a low-pitched voice saying, "If you liked the Trump supporters storming the nation's capitol, you are going to LOVE their next move, the attempted recall of our state's governor." 

Look for it. 

Oh yeah. The person who lost to Gavin Newsom in 2018 was John H. Cox, with 38.1% to Newsom's 61.9%. It's not quite two to one, but it was more than three to two. But Gavin went out to dinner. I wonder how many of the prospective candidates attended a political convention or other gathering where mask use was a bit sloppy. 

Be careful what you wish for? 

One current right-wing obsession is Trump's loss of Twitter and Facebook privileges. That's one of the things I've learned from talk radio over the past few days. In one segment the other day, Sen. Mike Lee (R. Utah) was on, and that's what they mostly talked about. You might think that trying to force these private companies to open themselves to increased governmental regulation would be a far stretch for the conservative side of the aisle, and to a certain extent you would be right. But in this, the Trumpian era for the new Republican Party, the stretch is a necessary precondition for continuing to be considered acceptable. 

Lee tried. 

He came up with some slightly warped theory about potential legislation that would hinge on a corporation having to follow its own rules. In other words (if I understand the argument correctly), if Twitter claims some prohibition against lying about the election rules, then they would have to enforce it without partisan bias. This would almost make sense were it not for the lack of Constitutional protection this would imply, for legal precedent that already exists, and mainly, it being counter to right wing cant about private property rights. In this case, the Twitter company is the private property, and on this one matter, the Republican side doesn't want to allow it to do what it wants. 

I think the conservatives might have an arguable point if they wanted to talk about enforcement of antitrust statutes. After all, we have a few giant companies that represent a large part of the social media marketplace. The precise remedies that ought to be enforced on their power in the internet marketplace would need to be discussed, but there is at least some rationality to making this argument. 

May I suggest that going after the social media companies is a two-edged sword. That's because there is a whole other marketplace that is also monopolized in the sense of politics and partisanship. 

It's the talk radio industry. 

Allow me to remind people that at one point, the term "talk radio" meant something quite different than it means today. There were talk radio hosts who weren't all that overtly political and there were some liberal talk show hosts. There was a fellow by the name of Michael Jackson (not the singer) who held civil and civilized discussions on one of our local stations. 

Aside: The radio announcer (who I thought of as the original Michael Jackson) has his own star on the Hollywood Blvd walk of fame. In the pre-Covid days, you could see lots of tourists doing selfies at the original Michael Jackson's star, particularly after the performer's death. 

There was another radio host who was an unabashed liberal, by the name of Bill Press. He even did a stint as the chair of the California Democratic Party in the 1990s. 

In other words, at one time there was a diverse range of political opinion that was represented on talk radio in this town, ranging from the annoying Joe Pyne to Bill Press and Rush Limbaugh (on the same station for a while) to the urbane Michael Jackson. Bit by bit, the Presses and Jacksons got locked out of the process as station owners -- and eventually the entire industry -- made these stations a significant element of the right-wing noise machine. 

The universe of American talk radio has become, in effect, a monopoly of partisan politics. The fact that there is more than one corporate owner is true, but this is in some sense irrelevant since the industry as a whole functions in concert to present a single party line. 

And we the people should remember that the AM radio dial was organized to provide exclusive local use to each frequency and defined the system of licensing of radio stations to be in the public interest. 

We even had a somewhat restrictive system that was enforced upon radio stations prior to the Ronald Reagan presidency. It was called the Fairness Doctrine, and it would not have allowed a radio station to solely transmit one side's partisan message. Prior to Reagan's order that abolished the Fairness Doctrine, station's would limit the shrillness of their political comments. Those talk radio hosts who delved into politics understood how to draw the line and what to do when some guest of theirs crossed it. 

So, one potential approach for Democrats would be to respond to the complaints about social media as follows: "Yes, we too have concerns about private companies gaining near-total control over what is said in this country. We are not the political party that has called for censorship over most of our history. So, may we assume that you would support us in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine as the other side of reining in the power of online social media? 

And while they're at it, maybe the Democrats will point out that Fox News should also be subject to the same rules.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)