As election day on Tuesday approaches, Democrat Gavin Newsom has a commanding lead in the race for governor of California. Newsom, often described as a “Kennedy-esque” figure, is currently lieutenant-governor. A flattering profile in last week’s issue of The New Yorker unpacked his campaign slogan, “Courage for a Change”: “Newsom seeks to embody [Bobby] Kennedy’s grainy glamour, to provide moral clarity in a bewildering hour.”
The moral clarity is not evident on bioethical issues. On the one hand, he has insisted that he identifies as a Catholic. “I still maintain a strong sense of faith,” he said in 2009. “The Irish-Catholic rebel, I guess, in some respects, but one that still has tremendous admiration for the Church and very strong faith. It's manifested for me in a less indoctrinated way, but the core principles still apply.”
On the other hand, he is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, abortion rights and physician-assisted suicide.
And, he revealed to The New Yorker, in 2002 he assisted his mother to commit suicide when she was suffering from breast cancer.
In May, 2002, his mother decided to end her life through assisted suicide. Newsom recalled, “She left me a message, because I was too busy: ‘Hope you’re well. Next Wednesday will be the last day for me. Hope you can make it … The night before we gave her the drugs, I cooked her dinner, hard-boiled eggs, and she told me, ‘Get out of politics.’ She was worried about the stress on me.”
As Wesley J. Smith points out in his column in the National Review (he was the first to notice this astonishing confession), there are moral problems with this account of his mother’s death. Loneliness and neglect may have motivated his mother’s suicide. Smith comments: “Newsom’s cancer-stricken mother had to leave a message that she was going to kill herself because he wasn’t visiting her or keeping in regular touch.”
And another thing: this happened so long ago that the exact details are dim in my mind, but I seem to remember that a nominee for the US Supreme Court nearly failed to score his dream job because of an alleged crime of attempted rape when he was a 17-year-old high school student. There was some kind of a huge controversy, wasn’t there? Demonstrations, twitterstorms, talking heads in a frenzy across the nation, politicians grandstanding…
Of course times were different way back then and public figures were held to a higher moral and legal standard. As the saying goes, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Nonetheless Newsom’s admission is still disturbing. Assisting a suicide was a crime in California in 2002– and it still is if you are not a doctor. And at the time Newsom was not a callow teenager, but a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
The odd thing about this is that there has been almost no reaction to the news that the next governor of California helped his mother to kill herself. Assisting a suicide is just as much a crime as attempted rape and in this case Newsom has admitted to the most respected magazine in the United States that he did it. You would think that at least his Republican opponent would seize upon this blithe admission as a golden opportunity to knock off Newsom's Kennedy-esque halo.
But not even he seems to care. What more do you need to show that assisted suicide has been normalised in California?
So, whether “Golden Boy 2.0” (as The New Yorker dubbed him) will provide “moral clarity in a bewildering hour” remains to be seen. Wait for Tuesday evening!
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet