Ideology and local Issues: help or hindrance?
(The messages from H. Brown and Richard Knee (below in italics) were published on the PROSF bulletin board: email@example.com)
Of course it's not that ideology is "evil" in Tim Redmond's straw man formulation. Rather, the question is whether ideology is helpful in understanding the world we live in---specifically, the strictly local issues facing the city. Redmond lays out the assumptions underpinning his political ideology---the combination of money and power is bad for democracy, the strict regulation of markets, and the redistribution of wealth.
One can quarrel with these assumptions, but the real question is, How do they help Redmond---or anyone, for that matter---understand local issues, like homelessness, Muni, housing, development in general, the garage in the park, marijuana clubs, traffic, bicycles in the city, etc.? My answer, based on reading the SF Bay Guardian for many years, is that Redmond's ideology doesn't help at all. In fact, it has actually hindered his understanding, since it seems to be accompanied by a self-righteousness that further muddies the intellectual waters.
Redmond's ideology is a generic Marxism that is meaningless until you try to apply it to specific issues; when you do that, you learn that it's both meaningless and useless. How, for example, did Redmond's class analysis lead to failure when applied to the city's homelessness problem? My observation: Redmond and many progressives correctly saw the homeless as a manifestation of our capitalist system. But they also evidently assumed, since homelessness was a systemic problem, that there was nothing much we---the political community of San Francisco---could or should do about it beyond defending the "right" of the homeless to live and die on our streets.
What we got from Redmond and the Guardian was a half-baked Marxist analysis that expressed sympathy for the homeless but failed to promote a meaningful political response from city government. Instead, we had to wait for the "capitalist" liberal Gavin Newsom to adopt homelessness as an issue before the city could even begin to address it.
From: Richard A. Knee firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Sunday, November 20, 2005
To: h. brown, Tim Redmond
Subject: Re: "part of Newsom's political brilliance"
h., you may be right. But I'm interested in what evidence you have that what Tim wrote is off the mark. Furthermore, Tim did not say that Newsom's popularity "must exceed 90 percent." He wrote, "His polls show an 86 percent favorable rating, and since there are always at least 5 percent of the people who don't have an opinion, that means less than 10 percent of San Franciscans think the mayor is doing a bad job." There is a difference there; some people neither know or care whether a given politician or group of politicians is doing a decent job. As to Tim's reporting that a source close to Newsom put the supes' popularity in the low 50 percent range, we must indeed ask whether the source isn't doing some spinning. Furthermore, I don't think it's fair to make that kind of a generalization; I imagine some supes, faced with a re-election challenge today, would win hands down, while others might have their hands full. At the same time, h., do you have any numbers from a source that's more reliable, or from any source at all? As to which side Tim is on, I think his latest "In This Issue" column makes it abundantly clear: "Newsom has brilliant advisors, and has managed to create the image that he has no 'ideological' agenda---as if ideology is somehow evil---and is intent on running the city as a good-government pragmatist. The story is selling well. And I hate it. See, I have an ideology. I think too much money and power in too few hands poisons any democratic system. I think the proper functions of government include the strict regulation of markets and the redistribution of obscene wealth to level the playing field for all. I think cities are the hope of the world, and I'm willing to fight for mine. Why, exactly, is that wrong? Why is it OK to say that as long as the system keeps rolling along, and the gears of private industry keep grinding, and everyone smiles at the camera, everything is just fine? Ideology stopped slavery, and drove the civil rights movement, and ended the Vietnam War. Ideology is good, Mr. Mayor. Which side are you on?"
Happy Thanksgiving all,
From: h. brown email@example.com
Sent: Sunday, November 20, 2005
Subject: "part of Newsom's political brilliance"
Open letter to Time Redmond (let's see if he prints it)
Tim, (re: your 11-16 'Spin Cycle') I swear to God, sometimes I wonder whose side you're on. First you reprint the lies from Binder's push polls and don't stop there. You go a step further and extrapolate the shit and tell our troops that Newsom's actual popularity must exceed 90%. Do you honestly not understand that you're carrying Newsom's water in the only major print media Progressives count on to tell the truth? To cap it off, you quote numbers from "a source close to the mayor" that assure us that the supes' popularity is under 50%. Done? Oh, no. You proceed to tell us that Newsom is "brilliant." If this is your idea of a pep talk, you need a couple of hits of acid to get your head right. Et tu, Redmond, et tu?