Stadium speeches are a bit fascist, but Governor Newsom giving a speech to an empty stadium seems like a perfect metaphor for his administration.
How better to sum up the effect of the lockdowns, Newsom’s imaginary popularity, and his failed attempts at connecting with normal people than a speech to an empty stadium?
Sometimes politicians destroy themselves better than any political opponent could.
Newsom dug deep into the Cuomo playbook for his big speech, but he lacked Cuomo’s talent for contemptuous shamelessness. Cuomo could dig through a pile of corpses and deliver angry dismissive comebacks to questions about where all the bodies came from. Where Cuomo had the momentum of a car salesman or a fraudulent stockbroker, bullying, hectoring, and humiliating the very people he was trying to convince until they had been gaslit into believing that they were wrong and he was right, Newsom just comes off as weak and ineffectual when he borrows Cuomo’s lines.
“I just want you to know, we’re not going to change course just because of a few naysayers and doomsayers,” Newsom told an empty stadium. “The California critics out there who are promoting partisan political power grabs with outdated prejudices and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this, we will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again.”
It’s gibberish, not necessarily a bad thing in politics where people only pick up the general tone of a speech without actually hearing every word, but it lacks any kind of momentum. Newsom seized emergency powers and is now accusing recall supporters of a partisan power grab. It’s a dumb line, but Cuomo could have made it work. Newsom doesn’t have his reality dysfunction field or his chutzpah. He just reads stuff like this that someone wrote for him without any real conviction.
The belated pivot to optimism, decrying “naysayers and doomsayers”, and maybe the nattering nabobs of negativism, is strikingly out of touch with people’s experiences. It’s far too early to pivot to optimism and California isn’t in a state where optimism is justified.
Dismissing criticism of his performance as being all about politics is a Cuomo staple, and no doubt was poll-tested, but the timing for it is also wrong.
Cuomo’s downfall shows that the sentiment has shifted from a need to rely on politicians to a desire to hold a few of them accountable for the mess. Panic over the virus has been overtaken by panic over closed schools, a teetering economy, and a depressing future.
And that’s Newsom in a nutshell.
Cuomo’s a nasty bastard, but he was also able to read the public and the moment. That’s more than Newsom knows how to do. Unlike Cuomo, he comes from a generation of coddled politicos whose path to power was paved by connections with a Silicon Valley elite. And that means Newsom is missing some basic human skills that can’t be compensated for with big data. And that’s how you end up ranting ineffectually to an empty stadium.