Democrats' Dirty (French) Laundry
Governor Newsom makes an embarrassing mistake that is costing the Democratic Party.
Phillip Chin | 12/10/20
This year, Democrats lost seats in the House and failed to win back the Senate. One important reason is that many working-class Americans view Democrats as decadent, scoldy, and condescending, which hurt the party members who did not run directly against Trump, whose personal flaws are always on display. On November 6th, my governor, Gavin Newsom, proved skeptics of the Democratic party correct.
According to CNN, here are the details of the event: “Newsom and his wife, Jennifer, attended a 50th birthday party for political consultant and lobbyist Jason Kinney, at the uber-exclusive French Laundry restaurant in the heart of the state's Napa Valley. They were two of a dozen people at the event, which was held at an outdoor table in the courtyard of the restaurant. Photos obtained by Fox 11 in Los Angeles show Newsom sitting closely packed with other guests — and none wearing a mask. (There is also some debate as to whether they were fully outside, as the woman who took the photos at the restaurant told Fox 11 that the group was loud and sliding doors were closed to keep the room quieter.)”
The first issue with the French Laundry dinner is its disregard for the rules that save lives. Surviving and overcoming a pandemic is reliant on making sacrifices, as most Americans have done or been forced to. There are the health care workers working miserable hours and coping with the deaths of their patients, the workers laid off from their jobs, and even the teenagers who lost a normal school experience. We sacrifice to prevent any avoidable addition to the 289,531 dead, the 15.4 million sick in the U.S. alone.
The audacity of the French Laundry dinner is that Governor Newsom so boldly assumed that the rules and sacrifices that he imposes on his constituents do not apply to him by virtue of his wealth and position. Would we all enjoy a nice dinner celebrating a close friend’s birthday? Of course, but that is out of the question for normal people like you and me.
The second issue with the French Laundry dinner is its extravagance. The French Laundry is one of the highest-rated restaurants in the world, with three Michelin stars. According to the Guardian, outside dinner goes for “$350 per person, indoor dining for $450 per person, or a white truffle and caviar dinner for $1,200 per person”(The Guardian). The menu for 12/1/20 included such delicacies as ‘Sabayon’ of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Regiis Ova Caviar. The fact that dinner was likely paid for by a lobbyist who might have convinced Newsom to publicly oppose Prop 21 — which expanded rent control and was endorsed by politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Karen Bass, and Barbara Lee — showcases California’s corruption and Newsom’s indifference to even the appearance of integrity.
The problem with spending so much money on tiny bites of food that you’ll probably need to supplement with some late-night snacks is that it is out of touch with your constituents. Even before the pandemic, California had a raging homelessness problem. Although Republican lawmakers deserve the majority of the blame for refusing to pass a sufficiently large relief bill that the Democrats demanded, both sides refused to reach a compromise until very recently. The new proposed bill does not even include direct payments to families, which were instrumental in keeping people afloat during the spring.
The logic behind Pelosi and Schumer’s negotiating strategy was that if the suffering of the American people grew great enough, Republicans would have no choice but to deliver a massive stimulus package on the same level as the HEROES Act. If a smaller stimulus package were passed, it would likely run out by the time Biden was inaugurated, and Republicans would have little political incentive to pass another bill, just as in 2009. However, this strategy is predicated on increasing the financial hardship of the American people and relying on the empathy of Republican leaders — the first is antithetical to the supposed values of the Democratic party and the second is a very risky proposition.
What’s worse than being unreasonably strict and self-righteous is a strict, self-righteous hypocrite. At the beginning and middle of the pandemic, liberal scolds on Twitter shouted about the selfishness of people flocking to beaches during the summer. However, as long as there is social distancing, going to the beach and other outdoor activities are relatively safe. As the pandemic wore on, requests to “be patient” and “wait it out” have become less and less realistic (Nate Silver). We all desire human contact and sunlight, and to self-flagellate to gain the moral high ground to flagellate others is a recipe for disaster. Repression can only last so long and then you will be a hypocrite.
In nearly the same breath as Governor Newsom inhaled yummy truffle oil from Italy (and potentially coronavirus), he announced that California would be undergoing new lockdown measures, which include stay-at-home orders. Despite urging the people of New York to remain safe and isolate during Thanksgiving, Governor Cuomo announced that his 89-year old mother and two daughters were visiting him. The brazenness of these actions is astonishing. Cuomo trumpeted his plans on Twitter while Newsom did not even bother with appearances — eschewing a mask and dining in an enclosed outdoor space. And while there is an epidemiological argument that these activities can be made safe given the right precautions, there’s no argument for politicians to lead by a “do as I say, not as I do” model.
Despite demographic changes resulting in a growing non-white population in America, another change enables Republicans to get reasonably close to winning the White House and helps them win other down-ballot elections: “working-class white people have an enormous amount of political power and they’re trending towards the Republican Party” (David Shor). That means that Democrats cannot simply rely on young people getting older or America getting less white. They can’t simply wait for Father Time to build a lasting coalition, which makes mistakes like this particularly egregious.
That’s not to say that the Republican Party is much more virtuous. Despite branding itself as the party of the working class, Republicans are often just as extravagant and much more hypocritical. The first family is a parade of decadence — from Melania’s $51,500 dress to Ivanka’s tax-deductible $747,622 consulting fee from her father. However, the laissez-faire attitude of prominent Democratic figures will likely lead voters to label the two parties as equally out of touch -- 60 percent of voters want a competing third party to fix the political system.
To win elections in difficult, Republican-leaning places like Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida, Democrats must hold together a broad coalition including both wealthy donors and average voters. And in an increasingly nationalized environment, what politicians on the coasts say and do is broadcasted repeatedly to voters in these swing states. Winning elections is already hard — let’s not make it harder by confirming voters’ worst instincts about us.