Politics as Usual

Peak woke

Has San Francisco reached the high tide of its progressive resurgence?

San Francisco is the new Berkeley,” said KCBS Radio reporter Bob Butler in a recent political discussion. “Remember all the times when we talked about how wacky Berkeley was for the things that they were doing? Well, San Francisco is doing that.”

The “that” in question is letting your leftist freak flag fly, unhindered by considerations of compromise, common sense, or if your ideas are even workable. This was in full view recently when the city’s school board spent valuable time not coming up with a plan to safely reopen schools but devising a plan to rename 44 city public schools whose namesakes fell afoul of the board’s ideological stance. They devised a list that seemed tailor-made to please right-wing provocateurs like Tucker Carlson. The offending names included former mayor and current U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, as well as Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. 

Oh, and there was still no plan to reopen public schools — which, if racial and economic reckoning was a school board priority, would itself have been a priority. Racial minorities and economically disadvantaged children are being hurt the most by not being able to attend schools; many don’t have the technology to access online learning, they often don’t have high-speed Internet connection (I remember one local expert talking about families with no Internet connection, where the kids couldn’t even do their homework until their mother came home from work and they could use her smartphone’s Internet connection), and they’re highly unlikely to have tutors available to help them catch up.

Instead, the school board used its time to insist that Dianne Feinstein is the same as a slave ship captain. This stain is likely to remain on San Francisco’s reputation long after the freak flag is lowered and sanity returns to the school board.

The board has asked the public to suggest new names for the schools via an online form. I’m hoping at least one of them is named Boaty McBoatface.


When I brought this up to C.W. Nevius, former Chronicle columnist and current author of “C.W.’s Newsletter,” he said, “One of the ironies of San Francisco, as ‘woke’ as San Francisco is, year after year we elect a moderate mayor. The only progressive mayor in recent history was Art Agnos — and he was a one-term mayor.”

That pattern has held, with current Mayor London Breed representing what can probably be called the moderate wing of the local Democratic Party. Yet today the Board of Supervisors is controlled by the left wing, the district attorney is the city’s unofficial public defender, and the school board is made up of achingly woke members. Progressives have been eyeing the mayor’s office as a sign of achieving their goal of control in the city, but I suspect they have reached peak woke, the high point of their current resurgence, and we are likely to see a reaction at the ballot box that is based on the Left’s overreach on crime, small business conditions, and schools.

Last year, I interviewed a candidate running to replace a Democratic incumbent in Sacramento. She was a smart and well-spoken candidate, but her views on crime left me wondering how well she had thought them through. While discussing victims of burglaries, including her own loss of a computer to a thief, she didn’t blame the thieves; she blamed the victims, saying they had guilt because they had not changed a system that drove people to commit crime.

When I politely suggested that such an approach to crime will result in an inevitable backlash from voters who don’t like being blamed when their homes are burglarized and vandalized or their cars stolen, I expected her to defend her point. And she could have. Anyone who had a halfway decent religious education — in I think just about any religion, but certainly the one based on a Middle Eastern carpenter — would at least be familiar with the concept of feeling compassion for the offender, as well as taking responsibility to make a just society. As I’ve written here before, we are at a moment in time where millions and millions of people are open to making significant changes in society to make it fairer and more just, not just for themselves but for people they have never met who are suffering the effects of systemic injustice.

But that wasn’t the response. Instead, she reiterated her point and moved on. I realized she didn’t have a position that had been derived from facts and evidence and questioning, the better to arrive at a policy that can withstand critics; she had a position that can only be derived from talking to people you already agree with, and formulating a policy that fits ideological, not human, parameters.


The blowback has already started. The Campaign for Better Public Schools was recently formed by the Families for San Francisco PAC to explore remedies ranging from recalling members of the school board to a charter amendment that would turn school board members into mayoral appointees. As for crime, District Attorney Chesa Boudin got elected in a low turnout election and through the magical machinations of ranked-choice voting. There is already an effort to recall Boudin; but if that stalls and he makes it to a reelection campaign, it will be very hard to imagine him being reelected. The latest news that the city is considering laying off 11 percent of its police officers is not Boudin’s doing, but it is unlikely to calm voters worried about dangerous streets.

There is no lane for the Republicans to use the Left’s overreach to gain power in San Francisco like it was able to do in New York City. The GOP here is too small and the brand has been tarnished beyond immediate repair by four years of Trumpism. But there is every reason to expect that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party will ride schools, crime, and small business to victory over the next couple city elections.

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