It’s Not Confusing, It’s Newsom

Michael Brendan Dougherty
·4 min read

Governor Gavin Newsom has tried to distinguish himself during the pandemic. He’s not going to run California like one of those bad states, no. Newsom promised an approach to COVID-19 lockdowns and reopenings that was “driven by data,” and that there would be data transparency with the public.

The promise was that Newsom would be such a good technocratic liberal that in California he wouldn’t even be governing at all; the best science would be governing you. As hospitalizations increased, opportunities for socializing would decrease across a regionalized California. The state would run like an algorithm: perfectly, flawlessly, and ultimately, beautifully. The system would tame coronavirus like an oiled comb running through a full head of slicked-back hair.

Social distancing would be rigorously enforced, even if that meant sending out a bunch of cops to collar a single paddle boarder hundreds and hundreds of yards away from anybody else. How dare that guy spend some alone time getting sun and fresh air when there’s a virus going around that kills people with vitamin D deficiencies, and transmits in poorly ventilated indoor spaces! Can’t he do any of the healthy authorized activities, like eating from a McDonald’s drive-thru?

And yet, California is suddenly opening. Odd, that. It’s true that new cases have started to fall, but not that fast. The most recent stay-at-home order in Los Angeles County came on December 3, 2020, when there were 2,572 hospitalizations. Now, indoor dining and theatergoing are opening nearly statewide, and Los Angeles County hospitalizations are at 6,697. But wasn’t California’s lockdown determined by simple-easy-to-understand metrics for capacity? If intensive-care capacity at hospitals fell below 15 percent, things would be closed. Yet they are at 9 percent and reopening. What gives?

Well, surely there are some publicly available data that would explain this. A simple projection from the current trends? “At the moment the projections are not being shared publicly,” Department of Public Health spokeswoman Ali Bay explained to the Associated Press.

Kate Folmar, California Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman, issued a statement about why the data behind the decision would not be shared. “These fluid, on-the-ground conditions cannot be boiled down to a single data point — and to do so would mislead and create greater uncertainty for Californians,” she said.

State health officials didn’t want to “confuse” Californians with the details.

But an absence of details is even more confusing. The whole point of having transparent, data-driven decisions was partly to help businesses plan for forthcoming shutdowns and reopenings. Restaurants that would reopen need to order food, and alert (or rehire) staff. Multiply that across many other categories of business and you see the need for transparency.

Only after pressure this week did the state start to release its projections, though not how it makes them.

Maybe people were looking at the wrong number. Anger over Gavin Newsom’s heavy-handed approach to COVID resulted in a recall petition. When Gavin Newsom defied his own orders and dined — without a mask — with health lobbyists and officials at The French Laundry, then lied about it, the recall got momentum. The recall needs roughly 1.5 million certified signatures, roughly 12 percent of the last election’s turnout, to start a campaign. Activists say they only need about 300,000 more signatures. And they have until March 17 to get them. Chamath Palihapitiya, a Democratic donor and a former Facebook Inc. executive, announced that he would challenge Newsom in a recall election.

I guess Newsom would rather people focus on the long lines at In-and-Out Burger and not on his metrics for granting liberty or imposing tyranny.

That tech investors and executives are starting to turn on Newsom should worry him; that was his base when he was mayor of San Francisco. They can add real financial firepower to what had been at first a populist effort coming mostly from Newsom’s right flank.

California is supposed to be the state of the American future. But for several decades, California has been bleeding its middle class and becoming one of the unequal states in the country, where appalling poverty and social degradation feature right next to appalling wealth and snobbery. All overseen with a technocratic sneer.

Maybe, just maybe, we are seeing a preview of how liberal technocratic governments come to an end.

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