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Obsessing About California

This Holiday Season, Be Grateful to Your Out-of-State Friends and Relatives Who Have California on the Brain

Thank you, America, for always keeping California in your thoughts.

Now 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.

This Thanksgiving, as you out-of-state friends and relatives welcome us into your homes across this crazy country, visiting Californians should take every opportunity to tell you just how grateful we are for your constant attention.

It never fails to impress me how top of mind California is across these United States. I recently spent a working weekend in that glorious cradle of American ideas, the home of Washington and Jefferson and Madison, the great state of Virginia. At least, that’s what it used to be called. But between meetings in a hotel conference room, I learned that Virginians now call their state “California East.”

Yes, Virginia has a number of new locations of California-based Trader Joe’s (including a very good one across the street from my hotel). But I don’t think Virginia’s newly elected governor, Glenn Youngkin, was calling his own state “California East” in campaign speeches because of his love for seasonal Joe-Joe’s cookies.

Now 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.

“In a few short years, Virginia has become California East. It happened quickly,” Youngkin warned. Coming from a Republican who attributed this Californization of his state to “the left liberal progressive agenda,” this was supposed to sound critical. But when his allies listed policies and proposals that were turning the Old Dominion into California East, it actually sounded like they were listing the rosy side of Golden State governance: strengthening clean air laws, legalizing marijuana, shortening sentences for non-violent offenders, sending a ballot in the mail to every voter, and going four entire years without executing anyone.

“California East” isn’t a Virginia creation. Political leaders in Nevada and even Colorado have waved the phrase around like a boogeyman to warn about the perils of all the Californians moving in. Then again, can you blame them? We Californians can be so good-looking that you don’t want to look directly at us—lest ye be blinded.

Sometimes, though, this obsession with California is so over-the-top that it can get a little 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 had these great T-shirts made (I own one) that say, “Don’t California My Texas.” But, in reality, they brag whenever Californians or California companies relocate themselves and their California values to the Lone Star State. Texas is now home to 40 different In-N-Out Burger locations, Elon Musk, and an electric grid in even worse shape than ours. Plus, all the transplants have made Austin an unofficial California colony.

Lately, I’ve noticed Iowa and other pork-producing states have rivaled Texas in their fixation on California. Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst can’t stop talking about what they claim 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 at first, because I love bacon. So, in order to investigate the salt-cured delicacy’s availability and legal status, I sought out my favorite downtown L.A. food vendor, who sold me a bacon-wrapped hot dog. As a final journalistic confirmation, I Ignored my wife’s dietary advice just this once and ate it.

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It turns out that what Iowans are really hog-tied over is California’s commitment to animal welfare. In fact, California hasn’t banned anything; we just won’t let Iowa sell its pork products here until they start complying with our more animal-friendly laws on how pigs are confined. 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 everyone else who just can’t get California off the brain: Almost all their criticisms of us are really compliments—love, even—disguised in the homespun idioms of good, God-fearing Americans.

So, Californians, don’t lose your cool if a relative tries to bait you at holiday dinner. Instead, I’ve mocked up this handy California hate/love translator with some common examples to help you understand what your family member is actually trying to say:

  • “You’ll let anyone vote, you election fraudsters” means “I’m awed by your state’s commitment to democracy.”
  • “You guys love illegals and open borders” means “I find it hard to admit how much I admire your desire to solve the worker shortage and keep immigrant families together.”
  • “You don’t respect the rights of gunowners” means “Thank God there’s one American state trying to reduce gun violence.”
  • “You’re giving everything to the welfare queens” means “I really 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 need to 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. And our schools, gutted by pandemic closures, really should teach critical race theory—so they can at least say that they are teaching anything at all.

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 recent sharp decline in our poverty rates. Resist the temptation to mention the long history of would-be American leaders bashing California—I’m looking at you Mitt Romney—even as they buy residences here.

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Instead, let yourself 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 our state. 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
Zócalo Public Square