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‘Governor Knows Best’: California’s daily pandemic series in retrospect
father knows best
Robert Young, center, along with Jane Wyatt starred in “Father Knows Best”. The 1950s TV series about a father consistently providing sage advice started as a radio show in the 1940s.

“Father Knows Best” — a 1950s era American TV sitcom starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt — resonated with many viewers.

It’s premise was simple.

The father, Jim Warren played by Young, was a voice of reason.

Jim offered sage advice to the problems his children encountered as they were growing up.

Not surprisingly many Americans — who had been led by the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower through the earthly version of Dante’s inferno squared — saw the Andersons as an idealized concept of a family.

It was an era where Americans looked to their leaders — whether it was in general terms  such as the now antiquated and often off the mark concept of  the “man of the household” or the elected leaders of cities, states  and nations — to lead us out of the wilderness of daily dilemmas and conflicts whether they were on a household or global level.

Somewhere on the road that passed through the mythical communities of Springfield and Mayberry, Americans pulled the wool back from over their eyes.

They started questioning the assumed wisdom of people in power and as such more an more people did not take every word of advice offered as the gospel.

The truth be told that has always been the case.

But the Facebooks, Twitters, and Snapchats of the day — ABC, CBS, and NBC — had created a vast and virtually universal echo chambers that the Jim Youngs of the world such as TV producers, politicians and corporate businessmen used to amplify the legend that they were oracles of sage advice.

Given elected leaders in high places try to project personas of — as well as seeing themselves being — a mixture of the Jim Youngs of American politics, they have come to view their proclamations to be unchallengeable.

To be fair, most hunger for the initiative boldness of FDR,  the “give them hell” tenacity of Truman anchored firmly in common sense, and the quiet steady leadership hand of Eisenhower.

They made the case for their decisions on the hand they were dealt. They may have retreated at various points to hide behind a venerable institution to shore up their points to secure support and allegiance to their decisions but it was far from being a daily default.

Gavin Newsom, just like this nation’s other 49 governors, faced a daunting task back in March 2020.

It was clear that a virus that the world knew little about and was powerless to even brunt its deadliness for those that contracted it was careening through civilization and accelerating from being an epidemic to a pandemic.

It’s hard to fault actions any governor took — or didn’t take — given the rapidly changing situation weighed heavily by unknowns.

The fallback line when everything else failed was to proclaim “we are following the science.”

This is not to dismiss science or even slam leaders for doing what they felt was the right thing that needed to be done.

It is, however, an attempt to re-enforce what the underlining premise of what “science” is.

The definition of science — as stated by the venerable Science Council — is as follows: “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

It is important to remember those words as Feb. 28 approaches.

That is the date Newsom has promised to lift the declaration of a statewide COVID-19 emergency. As such, it ends his powers to act unilaterally in areas that his office lacks the power to do so.

Newsom back in October of 2021 announced that all school children in California would be required to be vaccinated against COVID sometime after July 1, 2023. He did add the proviso that there had to be an FDA approved vaccine for those 16 and under.

It would be added to the nine other required vaccines before a child can attend a public school in the Golden State: Polio, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and whopping cough.

This enraged more than a few parents as trustees on local school boards can tell you such as in the Manteca, Turlock and Ripon unified school, districts.

There was, after all, no “systematic methodology” enlisted to justify such a declaration.

The governor, while he covered his bets with FDA approval being needed first, still hammered day in and day out those who questioned his order for mandated school vaccines with the four words that he “was just following the science.”

It must be noted the National Academy for State Health Policy has confirmed California is the only state “with an Announced Pending Student COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.”

 So, what is the status of mandatory COVID vaccines for California’s school children?

In response last month to an inquiry to Newsom’s office from the Lucerne Valley Unified School District in San Bernadino County, they were sent an email that the California Department of Public Health “is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking” to mandate COVID vaccinations for in-person schooling.

The letter sent by the Southern California school board criticized Newsom for not having “provided no guidance for teachers, students, parents, and administration on your pending (COVID) vaccine order/mandate.”

Why would Newsom provide guidance?

It is clear that he was not following science when he issued his edict about school vaccinations that, again, he crossed his fingers on by saying it was predicated on FDA approval of a vaccine for those 16 and under.

Newsom’s administration did announce on April 14, 2022 it was delaying all planned K-12 mandates indefinitely by citing a lack of FDA approval for vaccines those 16 and under.

So, why hasn’t the governor moved to protect California’s 6 million school-aged children as he said he would do? After all, he was “following the science.”

The truth is clear that at least on the point of the scientific justification for vaccinating every student that Newsom wasn’t “following the science” but was “ahead of the science.”

And given that California is the only state that put itself out on the limb and there isn’t a clamor from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to COVID-19 vaccinations as a requirement for students to attend school, it is clear the science ended up going in a different direction.

There are a lot of other things that Newsom and others did in the rush to deal with the unfolding emergency that ultimately weren’t validated by science as being effective.

Newsom deserves to be cut some slack on this. Science was playing catchup and certainly lacked the ability to fall back on exhaustive and proven research and methodology.

The governor’s ability to enforce his emergency directive regarding school vaccinations for COVID will go to the wayside on Feb. 28 when he ends the statewide emergency he first declared nearly three years ago.

Clearly, the governor doesn’t want to poke the hornet’s nest by bringing up his mandate that struck the wrong nerve with many parents.

But admitting one is wrong makes one more presidential.

Even Jim Young wasn’t infallible and would often learn lessons from his children.

But in doing so Newsom would be conceding one of his foundational arguments he repeatedly used during the pandemic in his  bid to dismiss and silence critics as nothing more than undisciplined right-wing ideologues.

The governor, as he told us over and over again, was always making decisions that were solidly based on “following the science.”

In retrospect the science that Newsom may have been following at times was political science and not science per se.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at