History shows that a terminally ill Ulysses S. Grant—ravaged by advanced-stage cancer, financially strapped, and determined to see that his wife wouldn’t be a pauper after his death—produced a 366,000-word autobiography in the final year of his life, without the help of a ghostwriter.

Thanks to some intrepid reporting by the Los Angeles Times, we now know that California governor Gavin Newsom has spent the last four years writing an account of his life and times. Newsom, who turns 57 later this year, still has two-plus years remaining in his second gubernatorial term (by the time he turned 57, Grant had served two terms as America’s 18th president after commanding a victorious Union Army in the US Civil War).

Before you head over to Amazon to pre-order Newsom’s memoir, a note of caution: it’s not evident when, if ever, the book will be published, nor for that matter if California’s governor even has a deal with a publisher.

What is evident: for a politician rarely coy about raising his national profile, be it trolling prominent red-state governors or critiquing the messaging skills of his fellow Democrats, a book makes sense in the grander scheme of Newsom’s political ambitions.

Here’s why.

Let’s suppose the memoir is released at some point in 2025. As this November’s election most likely will produce a lame-duck winner in the form of President Biden or former President Trump (neither of whom could seek a third term in 2028 after winning in 2024), the political press corps will have moved on to the next election. Thus, a Newsom media tour to revisit his biography is tantamount to an early audition for the folks in early primary states.

Let’s also suppose that Newsom’s memoir is what we’ve come to expect from aspiring politicians: a tale of hardship and perseverance so as to portray the candidate in a more sympathetic light (this clever Politico piece shows the repetitiveness of candidates’ books in 2020, a field of Democratic hopefuls recounting working-class upbringings, running scrappy campaigns, and really liking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).

Here, Barack Obama is the gold standard for politics and pathos, his memoir, Dreams From My Father, walking the reader through Obama’s self-examination of his racial identity. What burden would Newsom share? Most likely, his struggles with dyslexia.

Depending on how far along Newsom is in his writing product, one hopes he has the good sense to have noticed the fate of another governor, Kristi Noem, who recently produced a memoir (her second in three years) to elevate her chances of becoming Trump’s running mate. But in addition to the politically toxic tale of the governor shooting an unruly 14-month-old wirehaired pointer, Noem’s book also includes at least one egregious error: a false claim that she once met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

One takeaway for Newsom: tempting as it may be to exaggerate his life experiences, it’s wisest go easy on the embellishing (granted, that assumes the media will bother to fact-check, as they did with Noem). That’s especially true of Newsom’s relationship to the sport of baseball, which he credits for getting him into college (this CalMatters “fact check” of Newsom’s exploits on and off the baseball diamond shows that the truth doesn’t square with the media narrative of the future governor as a fervent “baller”).

A second takeaway for Newsom: perhaps it’s better for governors these days to focus on their jobs rather than imaging fawning reviews in the likes of The Atlantic and the New Yorker—the preferred reading of MSNBC bookers and coastal Democratic megadonors (if you doubt that California’s governor has an interest in such publications, consider the time he spent in 2018 trying to coax a New Yorker writer into producing a flattering profile).

Job performance, in fact, is a legitimate criticism of Newsom these days. Take, for example, the governor’s handling of California’s budget, currently facing a $45 billion shortfall after a $97.5 billion surplus three years ago. Rather than wait until this week to roll out the May Revision of his proposed budget plan (California’s fiscal year begins in July), Newsom moved up the announcement to last week.

Why the scheduling change? Because Newsom opted to spend this week in Italy, at a Vatican summit on climate change. While the governor didn’t go off half-cocked in his budget press conference, his presentation was half-baked—with less time to produce a complete budget summary, his administration released only a 50-page summary of the complex spending plan versus a 260-page outline that accompanied Newsom’s initial budget proposal back in January.

Then again, the incomplete budget summary is better than none at all. Which leads us to the mystery of this year’s gubernatorial State of the State message—a speech, a letter to the state legislature, or some other form of communication conveying Newsom’s vision for the Golden State (and the subject of a recent column on these pages).

Last year, Newsom sent such a letter to legislative leaders on the fourth Wednesday in March, and the previous year’s State of the State, an address before the legislature, was delivered on the second Tuesday in March 2022.

Two months ago, a Newsom aide said the governor’s office was coordinating with the legislature to set a new speech date. But now it’s mid-May and the gubernatorial missive is still missing in action. Sacramento’s legislative calendar is not helping matters, as lawmakers are now looking at a June 15 constitutional deadline to forward a budget to the governor. A better use of Newsom’s time may not be a longwinded address about the future of California, but instead a remake of a scene from the movie Dave, where an imposter president and his cabinet figure how to settle a budgetary mess over the course of four minutes.

In his defense, Newsom will justify the Rome trip as addressing a topic of “top concern” to Californians. But here, the governor is mistaking “concern” for “priority.” In this February survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (in which a majority of adults and likely voters disapproved of Newsom’s job performance), voters defined “the most important issue for the governor and state legislature to work on in 2024” in the following order: jobs, the economy, and inflation (20%); homelessness (18%); housing costs and availability (14%); crime, gangs, and drugs (11%); immigration (10%).

Perhaps Newsom would be wise to save talk of saving the planet for the next book, keeping in mind that Barack Obama offered a policy tome in advance of his presidential run in 2008. (If Newsom went by the same calendar as Obama, this would translate to a release date of October 2026.)

About that book: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream was useful in that it gave the Obama campaign the four-letter catchword it craved (“hope”). On the other hand, the book wasn’t universally praised. For example, former senator and past presidential hopeful Gary Hart wrote the following in a New York Times review: “Truly great leaders possess a strategic sense, an inherent understanding of how the framework of their thinking and the tides of the times fit together and how their nation’s powers should be applied to achieve its large purposes. ‘The Audacity of Hope’ is missing that strategic sense.”

Perhaps Hart was put off by passages such as the following, keeping in mind it was penned by a freshman senator whose candidacy was fueled more by cult of personality than policy accomplishments: “I find comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.”

At this point, Californians would welcome similar words from their governor, uttered or written—at the very least, to find out where the man’s conscience wants to take him.

Well, other than the Vatican.

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