The shrinking of the ISIL Caliphate from the size of Britain to the size of London’s Hyde Park is a military triumph worthy of celebration, but it belies an uncomfortable reality: beneath the rubble of al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State there remains the Islamic state of mind that spawned it -- and will mutate to spawn again in one deadly form or another.
And so it is with California, at least to every defender of individual, religious, and economic freedoms. Like the current Islamic State, it’s not so much a place as it is a crusading ideology -- a brave new spiritual caliphate with a brave new caliph: Gavin Newsom.
But this caliph is not your typical leftist lodestar, nor is he brave in the dystopian sense. He’s a Jesuit-trained thinker who's brave enough to set himself above the crowded constellation of presidential hopefuls trying to outshine each other with ever more generous promises of governmental gifts.
Newsom knows better, because he knows that the national electorate -- even the Democratic electorate -- is smarter than that. And in due time this former “business-friendly progressive” will become his party’s brightest light. The all-but-socialist agenda he outlined in his gubernatorial campaign will be all but forgotten, as he morphs back into a mainstream liberalism designed to attract the widest swath of voters possible.
Gavin Newsom is the consummate politician, and like al-Baghdadi’s somber speeches and black-on-black style, the new governor’s problem-solver polemics and dazzling persona are straight out of central casting: the telegenic good looks of a Kennedy, the optimism of a Bush ‘41, the faux earnestness of a Bill Clinton and, best of all, a record of private-sector success that will blunt center-right criticism.
Of course, like most white leaders of the left, he’s enjoyed a safe and privileged home life, raising his four children in the rich and 91% white enclave of Kentfield, California, far from the huddled masses he champions. And like al-Baghdadi, Newsom continues to use Middle East oil money -- courtesy of the Getty family in his case -- to fuel his entrepreneurial enterprises, while miraculously retaining his bona fides as an “environmental justice” warrior.
Democrats just don’t seem to care about his hypocrisies except, that is, for the far left. Like a lapsed jack Mormon, Newsom is seen by California’s Chomskyites as a “jack jihadi,” especially now that he’s downsizing their recurring dream of building the nation’s fastest and largest high-speed rail system, a classic Democratic patronage project plagued by cost overruns and mismanagement that could have tripled its original price tag to more than $100 billion.
Newsom can afford the blowback, however, because his eyes are on a bigger prize, and tacking toward the center, as every good Hyannisport sailor knows, is necessary to win a national election, especially the presidency in 2024.
Why 2024 instead of 2020? Because he’s not ready and neither is the Democratic Party.
Newsom had to wait patiently -- as mayor of San Francisco and then as lieutenant governor -- for California’s revered ayatollah, Jerry Brown, to lay down the terrible swift sword he used to decapitate federal immigration laws, radically raise carbon emission standards, hike tax rates for the wealthy up to another 32 percent, promote a $400 billion-per-year single-payer health care system, enact the most restrictive gun ownership statutes in the nation, and sign into law a bill forbidding faith-based colleges and universities to act on many of their religious tenets should any of their students receive tuition assistance from the State.
In those eight years Brown, along with his Democrat-dominated legislature, succeeded in making California the American left’s “shining city on a hill.”
No doubt that helped Newsom make the calculation that the governorship of California would be more politically valuable than a Senate seat, garnering him both the liberal media’s adulation and the executive experience he’ll tout to make the strongest case possible for being the nation’s chief executive in 2024.
As for his party’s diehard leftist message in 2020 -- it will be a suicide bombing that Newsom knows will only reinforce President Trump’s characterization of Democrats as jackbooted collectivists hell-bent on destroying America’s vibrant economy, traditional values, and personal liberties -- to wit, “Venezuela on steroids.”
Sober strategist that he is, Newsom will also make sure that he adds to his governance just enough Clintonesque triangulation to produce a track-record of “common sense progressivism” that will appeal to independent voters in battleground states, the key to winning the presidency in 2024.
Until he secures that Oval Office territory, however, he’ll keep the black flag of socialism under lock and key, mindful of another uncomfortable reality: that the clash of civilizations that most threatens us today is not coming from the Muslim world. It’s coming from our own hearts and minds, and it’s not simply dysfunction or polarization or gridlock.
It’s a dogma-eat-dogma holy war between two theologies whose faithful are as steadfast in their beliefs as Sunnis and Shiites and whose visions of America are just as irreconcilable -- from abortion to immigration to free speech and religious freedom to energy policy, tax policy, and capitalism itself.
With 60% of Americans entrenched on either side of this great divide, it will take a masterstroke by a master politician to convince the malleable middle of the electorate that there is still hope for our hopelessly contentious country.
Gavin Christopher Newsom knows that he will be that predominant politician, that accommodation avatar, that sincerest of shape-shifters who can bring pragmatism back to America’s politics and the presidency back to a confused and conflicted Democratic party.
For him it’s not a question of "if." It’s kismet.
Timothy Philen is an opinion writer and author of Harper & Row/Lippincott’s You CAN Run Away From It!, a satirical indictment of American pop psychology.