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Newsom: Conservatives are just like Hitler

Newsom: Conservatives are just like Hitler

Everyone knows the ancient joke about the two exhausted kids walking through a sun-blasted and waterless land. Sunburned and still miles from their destination, they come upon an immense pile of animal manure blocking their path. The boys stop for a moment to consider the obstacle mounded before them – feculent, still (in my telling) miraculously steaming – before the younger boy jumps quickly into the pile and begins digging furiously. His wee hands are a blur. Appalled, the older boy shrieks, “What are you doing?!” The younger boy famously replies with what’s become an aphorism on its own: “With all this manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

It’s supposed to be a story of plucky, silver-lined, glass-half-full optimism, a pre-industrial “when life gives you lemons” buoyance in the face of what’s obviously really bad news.

But sometimes excrement is just excrement.

So it was with Governor Gavin Newsom’s bizarre and pony-less State of the State, delivered 99 days late and by a video, no less, distributed on social media rather than, as per usual, in a speech delivered directly to that live studio audience we call the legislature.

In fewer than 28 minutes, the governor stated with precision the opposite of what’s true; at best, he took an artless brush to Republicans and conservatives on issues that even Newsom must know are shot through with inconvenient subtleties. He compared conservatives to fascists.

You might say that’s what politicians do – in which case, Newsom’s speech on Tuesday was just harmless lying. But to paraphrase the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr., lying anywhere is a threat to truth everywhere.

Before we get to the foul labor of sifting through the poop, it’s important to consider how Newsom began his memorable, dark speech – with what he called “a warning from the past”:

It was January 2, 1939, that anxious moment in history. The world was on edge as fascism spread its hate and destruction through Europe. On that day, Governor Culbert Olson delivered an inaugural address to raise the alarm with lawmakers and the people of this great state. He spoke of California’s most determined task in the face of “the destruction of democracy.” At that moment, the state’s highest calling was “the preservation of our American civil liberties and democratic institutions.

Framing his speech with a quote from the inaugural address of California Governor Culbert Olson (1939-1942) is classic Newsom. It’s supposed to ground in history the rest of his ungrounded – unhinged – attacks on conservatives. It’s supposed to show that our shallow governor is a man of real wisdom.

But if he had bothered to dig into the manure of Olson’s actual politics, he’d have found what you may already know: Gov. Culbert Olson was a bad governor and a worse man.

In that same inaugural address, Olson declared he would stand with actual socialists and progressives rather than with the U.S. Constitution. He shared with them “our desire for unity of action” – that’s the progressive’s lofty ideal of an executive strongman unencumbered by other branches of American government. In a phrase, it eliminates the checks and balances that protect against authoritarianism. In this alone, you’ll no doubt see the remarkable similarities between Olson and Newsom.

He called for minimum farm prices, the very Rooseveltian policy that had further immiserated farmers and disrupted the American food supply. Thanks to government-created prices, farms continued to wither and everyday hunger was real. With the Great Depression still raging after nearly a decade of such misfeasance, Olson declared that “a heavy tax burden cannot be avoided.”

On business, unitary action would allow government to take over key businesses. “I have long been committed to the proposition that where a service is or becomes necessary to the daily life or existence of all the people and is in effect a monopoly it should be owned and operated by the people through their own government,” Olson proclaimed. Who would decide which services would be – or already were – necessary to existence? Gov. Olson, of course.

On water, oil, and the land itself, “It shall be the policy of this administration to conserve and protect our great natural resources and control their exploitation in the common interest.”

In perhaps the most Marxian passage of all, Olson declared, “America has built enormously productive facilities for manufacturing. Our scientists, engineers and technicians have literally recreated the world in which we live. It is now well known that we have both the capacity and the ability to produce abundantly for all. But these advances, wonderful as they are, have brought along their own new and extremely difficult problems. We are a long, long way from the goal of social justice. We have yet failed to solve the question of distribution that attends our newly developed productive skills and capacities. This failure has plunged us into hard times and depression – the longest and most persistent in modern times.” We now know that FDR’s policies – supported by Olson, his ardent defender in Sacramento – account for the Depression’s awful durability.

Yes, Olson’s warnings about global fascism; threats to democracy; and impending war were in the speech, too. In the face of those dangers, Olson asked Californians to join him in “announcing to the world that despotism shall not take root in our State; that the preservation of our American civil liberties and democratic institutions shall be the first duty and firm determination of our government.”

But nine months after Olson’s inauguration, world war was no longer merely a possibility and Olson’s mind was elsewhere. On September 1, Nazi Germany actually invaded Poland, and Great Britain and France responded with declarations of war. And what did Olson do? The brave man who had warned Californians of the rise of fascism, turned his attention elsewhere: he pardoned two leftwing union activists (the word is too generous) convicted for their roles in 1916’s deadly Preparedness Day bombing in San Francisco.

Ironically, the Preparedness Day celebration was meant to show the city’s enthusiasm for President Woodrow Wilson’s effort to bring the U.S. into World War I. There were parades, flags, bunting, horse-drawn and flower-bedecked floats, speeches, games and a lot of local beer. And there would be death, too. The American left was vehemently opposed to the war effort – saw it as a squabble among the rich in which the workers of the world would pay with their lives. A bomb went off half an hour into the parade, killing 10, and injuring some 40 others.

Two union activists, Thomas Mooney and Warren K. Billings, were ultimately convicted for their part in the attack. For more than two decades, progressives attempted vainly to have their convictions overturned. Then came Olson’s “unitary action” in action: Nearly 25 years after the Preparedness Day Bombing, while Hitler and Stalin were sitting down to dine upon Poland, Gov. Olson took a moment to liberate the two anti-American terrorists. Remember their victims on July 22; our governor, though a former mayor of San Francisco with deep interest in history and justice, clearly won’t.

Speaking about the southern border in his State of the State speech, Newsom says Republicans “speak of immigrants poisoning American blood, and of mass deportations and detention camps, and of ‘vermin’ who want to destroy America.” Republicans are deploying “the language of destruction — the language of 1939,” precisely the moment “when Governor Olson issued his warning.” Such language is inexcusable whatever its source. But it’s illuminating to compare Newsom’s complaint with Gov. Olson’s actual deeds.

Olson was the nation’s first self-declared atheist governor – and, you know, whatever, it’s a free country – but he was also vehemently anti-Catholic. His contempt for California Catholics was based on his hick’s sense that they “owe allegiance to an institution that is not only foreign to our government but is in constant conflict with it. Their primary allegiance is to the Pope.” Newsom (himself a Catholic) might reasonably argue that Olson’s anti-Catholicism just proved he was a man of his time. But neither Newsom nor our legislators – nor many of our fellow Californians – would ever extend that sort of principle to other Californians, men (particularly) and women whose statues and names they’ve disgraced.

Worse than his anti-Catholicism was Olson’s enthusiasm for FDR’s internment of Americans of Japanese descent following Pearl Harbor. On March 6, 1942, Olson told a U.S. House committee that collective punishment of Japanese Americans was urgent. His logic was straight-up racist: jail them all “because of the extreme difficulty in distinguishing between loyal Japanese Americans . . . and those other Japanese whose loyalty is to the Mikado.” Given that difficulty, he told the House members, “I believe in the wholesale evacuation of the Japanese people from coastal California.”

Thanks to his obsequious support of Roosevelt’s grotesque mismanagement of the U.S. economy, union radicalism in California accelerated under Olson. You might say that violence – in the San Pedro Maritime Strike of 1939, and the Los Angeles Streetcar and the Pacific Maritime strikes of 1941 – was part of a broader national union trend, and you’d be right. But you might also acknowledge that in his rhetoric and actions, including freeing convicted union terrorists, Olson had, in his inaugural address, fired the starter’s pistol for mayhem.

For all this, it was hardly a surprise that Olson’s reelection campaign was a fiasco. On Election Day 1942, California voters went with his opponent, moderate Republican Earl Warren, by 15 points. Olson blamed that loss not his own majestic failures but on “the active hostility of a certain privately owned power corporation and the Roman Catholic Church in California.” Like Newsom himself, Culbert Olson was never one to surrender to simple facts.

In his affection for “unitary action,” for gathering power to himself in a crisis, for his contempt of religious freedom and property rights, for his scapegoating of the powerless, and for his idol worship of state power, Gov. Newsom could not have picked a better model than Gov. Olson.

Newsom’s defenders, generally sympathetic to pop-psychology tropes, will deny it but it’s likely true: Using California’s execrable 29th governor to frame his attacks on millions of Californians and Americans is a clear triumph of the subconscious.


Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center and co-host with David Bahnsen of National Review’s “Radio Free California” podcast. 

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