California lives rent-free in the minds of other Americans, says Joe Mathews

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Other states are obsessed with California and its policies, which is a way to show their love, according to Zócalo commentator Joe Mathews. Photo by Shutterstock.

After a year and a half of the pandemic, many Californians are counting their blessings during Thanksgiving. And for one particular Californian, Zócalo commentator Joe Mathews, it’s the appreciation — even the love — that the rest of the country has for California.

Opinion column by Joe Mathews:

It’s that time of the year when we should give thanks for the only California real estate that’s still cheap: All that space that we’re occupying — rent-free — in the heads of our fellow Americans. 

It’s amazing how top-of-mind California is across these United States. I recently visited that cradle of American presidents and ideas, the commonwealth of Virginia.

Its newly-elected governor Glenn Youngkin said in stump speeches that Virginia has become “California East” in a few short years.  

You might think this was criticism, coming from a Republican denouncing “the progressive agenda.” But when his allies listed the policies turning the Old Dominion into California East, it read like an ad for us: Stronger clean air laws, legal marijuana, and sending every voter a mail ballot.

“California East” isn’t a Virginia creation. Political leaders in Nevada and Arizona have used the phrase to warn about the perils of Californians moving in. 

Sometimes, though, obsession with California can get scary. Texas talks about us so constantly that if it weren’t for the physical separation provided by Arizona and New Mexico, California might have to get a restraining order.

Texans like to pretend that they don’t want California influences around — they even made T-shirts that say, “Don’t California My Texas.” But in reality, they brag whenever Californians relocate there. Texas is now home to 40 different In-N-Out Burger locations, Elon Musk, and an electric grid even more decrepit than ours. 

Lately, I’ve noticed Iowa and other pork-producing states rivaling Texas in their California. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst can’t stop talking about what she claims is a California ban on bacon. 

“We thought we’ve seen it all from the radical left … but this takes it to a whole new level: Banning bacon? No way, folks,” Ernst said. 

This worried me. Did we really ban bacon? To reassure myself of the salt-cured delicacy’s legal status, I ignored my wife’s dietary advice just this once and bought a bacon-wrapped hot dog from an LA food vendor. 

The bacon was genuine. California hasn’t banned anything. Iowans are just hog-tied that we just won’t let them sell their pork products here until they start complying with our more animal-friendly laws on pig confinement. So, the 3.2 million human Iowans may whine a little, but Iowa’s 23.8 million hogs and pigs should love us!

Here’s the truth about what lies in the hearts of Iowans, Texans, Virginians, and others who just can’t get California off the brain: Almost all their criticisms of us are really compliments — love, even — disguised in the idioms of good, God-fearing Americans. 

So, Californians, don’t lose your cool if a relative tries to bait you at holiday dinner. Instead, use my handy California hate/love translator to understand what your family member is actually trying to say:

  • “You’ll let anyone vote, you fraudsters” means “I’m awed by your state’s commitment to democracy.”
  • “You guys love illegals and open borders” means “I admire your desire to keep immigrant families together.”
  • “You are welfare queens” means “I love how California led on Medicaid expansion.”
  • “Your environmental regulations are out of control” means “Thank you for saving the planet so we don’t have to.”

That said, don’t let all this praise go to your head. We Californians must admit to ourselves that we’re not really the unstoppable, progressive colossus that other Americans imagine us to be. Our homelessness is even worse than it looks. PG&E is an unrepentant killer. Our cost of living is crushing — so is business regulation. 

So, my fellow Californians, stay humble as the pie you’re eating as you move around the country this holiday season. Don’t brag about our world-beating economic growth, or the sharp decline in our poverty rates. 

Instead, quietly savor all the California love you receive, in whatever form you receive it. And give thanks for all the Americans who won’t stop talking about us. Because California couldn’t afford all this promotion itself, even with a $31 billion budget surplus.

Happy Thanksgiving, California East. Oops, I mean, America!

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.




Chery Glaser


Darrell Satzman