Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Redmond and Newsom: ideology and pragmatism

Tim Redmond, political editor of the SF Bay Guardian, is annoyed with Mayor Gavin Newsom:

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. (SF Bay Guardian, Nov. 16, 2005)
 
Redmond doesn't hate it for philosophical reasons; he just hates it that Mayor Newsom has been successful so far because he is "a good government pragmatist." In short, Redmond hates it because the story is true. Note too that Redmond can't give Newsom himself any credit for his success; it's all about his "brilliant advisors."
 
Redmond must particularly hate it that Newsom is having genuine success in dealing with homelessness in SF, an issue that the SF Bay Guardian and the city's progressive community so dramatically failed to deal with over the past 10 years. And this failure was in large part caused by the very progressive ideology to which Redmond clings tenaciously. In the same Michael Krasny Forum interview that Mayor Newsom took a swipe at the SF Bay Guardian for being guided by "a strong ideology," he mentioned that the city has "housed" 1070 formerly homeless people in the last 18 months. Add this number to the 689 that the city has bused out of town under its Homeward Bound program and the total---1759---puts the city well on its way to fulfilling the original goal of the Ten Year Plan---dealing first with the city's most visible, hardcore 3000 homeless.
 
It's hard to even dignify what Redmond calls ideology with that designation:
 
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 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?
 
This is so inadequate as political philosophy and history that it's stunning. One's first response is, How stupid does Redmond think his readers are? But one quickly moves on to question Redmond's intelligence. Mere liberal Democrats like me and the mayor would press Redmond on what his notion of "strict regulation" and "redistribution" involved in a practical, political sense. Otherwise, of course concentrated wealth can be a threat to democracy. Every member of the Democratic Party would agree on that rather abstract, innocuous sentiment. It's the "which side are you on" bullshit that brings one up short. There are only two sides to our political struggles in the city and the country? And those two sides are the Ruling Class and the Working Class? This is a child-like, cartoon version of political reality, composed with only black and white crayons---and dull crayons at that.
 
Redmond's historical references also reveal an infantile understanding of history. It wasn't Redmond's class-struggle ideology that "stopped slavery"; it took an enormously destructive Civil War to do that---a war that the North damn near lost. And it wasn't ideology that drove the Civil Rights movement; it was a long, legal and political struggle for human rights and social justice that finally ended discrimination in public accommodations and gave black people the right to vote in the South. Nor did ideology end the war in Vietnam. The US couldn't defeat the Vietnamese on the battlefield, which led to political defeat for the pro-war forces here in the US. What did ideology have to do with it? The peace movement in the US in the 1960s and the 1970s was more a consequence of that military/political defeat than anything else. If the US had been able to defeat the Vietnamese quickly, there would have been no peace movement.
 
Redmond interprets the historical events he likes as somehow the consequence of forces that embody his cartoon ideology: Good Guys versus Bad Guys. That's not an ideology---or even an idea. It's the plot line for a superhero comic book.
 
Is it any wonder that progressives so completely botched the homeless issue with this kind of leadership at the city's most important progressive publication? And how is Redmond's ideology working on other city issues, like housing? Redmond announced last month that the struggle for affordable housing and against gentrification in the city was at a crucial point: "This is the next battle for San Francisco. And there's no time to lose." He hasn't mentioned the subject since. Not only does Redmond have a childish political philosophy; he also has Attention Deficit Disorder. Every week political reality is reinvented with a scrawl on a blank slate.

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