Friday, May 27, 2005

Progressive ideology in SF: Basic principles

Observations on the basic assumptions underlying SF progressivism.

1. Progressives are to the left of mere liberals like me, registered Democrats who are located somewhere in the great, murky political middle ground on most issues. But some progressives are more to the left than others. (Try, for example, to flank Supervisor Daly on the left on any issue. See what I mean?) Progressives call themselves progressives because they seem to think being on the left makes them morally, intellectually, and politically superior to liberals, who are seen as morally and intellectually flabby, much like the villains in Ayn Rand novels. Unfortunately for progressives, being to the left on an issue doesn't provide any automatic insight. In fact, the contrary is often the case.

2. Like the crucifix for Christians, the bicycle is the unifying symbol for SF progressives. Soon they will be wearing little bikes on necklaces and bracelets like Christians do with their symbol. Few progressives actually ride bikes, but they assume that it's a Good Thing for others to do so. Bikes are politically unassailable in San Francisco, which is why the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors can vote unanimously to make the Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan without any CEQA review---without, I bet, even reading it. The corollary to the assumption that Bikes Are Good: Cars Are Bad. It's not enough to be pro-bike; progressives also have to be anti-car, even if they happen to own one, which many do. 

This means they must support anything that makes it difficult for people to drive cars, trucks, or buses in the city. Parking fines and meter rates must be raised whenever possible. Driving lanes must be taken away from motor vehicles and made into bike lanes, even though there aren't anywhere near enough bike riders to justify doing so. 100 years from now people will supposedly recognize how forward-looking progressives were on this issue. Meanwhile, progressives must create traffic jams on city streets to show that Cars are Bad and bikes are a sensible alternative. The law that requires a parking space for every new housing unit built in the city must be undermined, because people supposedly don't really need cars; they can ride bikes, take the bus, or walk.

In large part, progressive righteousness on the bike issue is due to what Julian Davis might call a "category error": Since bikes emit no pollutants, cyclists are morally superior to those who drive cars, trucks, and buses---even to passengers in motor vehicles. But this is a separate issue from safety and practicality issues, but the bike fanatics tend to blur these distinctions.

3. The progressive assumption on homelessness: The homeless are just poor people who can't afford housing in the pricey SF housing market. True, they recognize that many of the homeless have substance abuse and mental health issues. But wouldn't you too if you were homeless? Progressives believe that they really care about the homeless, but of course Mayor Newsom doesn't. In fact, some progressives still think that Care Not Cash is a war on the homeless, even though the mayor's approach is showing early signs of success in getting people off the streets. This is confusing for progressives and makes them mad, because they are the Good People who are always on the side of poor people. How is it possible that they can be wrong on this issue? Very perplexing.

4. Progressives are for Peace and against War, which is another reason that they are Good People. President Bush is evil, and he knows he is evil. The terrorist insurgency in Iraq, in spite of its excesses, is really a national liberation movement that embodies the aspirations of the Iraqi people. Progressives can't remember the last US military action they approved of. World War II?

5. A relatively new progressive assumption is embodied in the We Need Housing movement: Since housing is too expensive in SF, the city should encourage developers to build as much housing as possible, especially along "transit corridors." This is done by waiving density, height, and parking requirements for new housing developments. Once enough housing is built in the city, housing prices will go down. 

The fact that this is pretty much a Free Market approach to the issue doesn't seem to faze progressives, who imagine that all those new condos in, for example, Chris Daly's Rincon Towers will be bought by hotel workers and Muni drivers. The We Need Housing movement consists of progressives, developers, the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. If this approach is followed, some day there will be enough housing in SF, and prices will go down. When will that be? There are now 750,000 people in the city. Maybe when we get to 7 million? Whatever.

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Notes on political hygiene

Many in the city's political community are routinely lax in their political hygiene ("conditions or practices conducive to health").

A few principles that, if commonly practiced by the city's political community, would surely be conducive to its overall political health:

Bring no personal/emotional baggage to the public arena or to political issues. This is probably impossible to put into practice perfectly, since we are an emotional, more or less neurotic species. But we must try, comrades. Politics is not group therapy.

Do your homework. Read whatever documents and/or news accounts on the issue that are available.

Go to as many meetings on the issue as possible. And go with an open mind. Too many seem to have made up their minds before they arrive. Of course we all have our biases. But politics is not a game that you attend to root for the home team. Most issues are complex, and there is almost always more than one valid or useful perspective.

Avoid scorched-earth political tactics. No name-calling, personal insults, questioning of motives, demonizing of opponents. This means that H. Brown shouldn't call Randy Shaw a "lying sack of shit" in his blog. Or call Sheriff Hennessey a "prick." Or Jill Wynns an "asshole," etc. For my part, I'll try to stop calling members of the bicycle community "Bike Nazis." It shouldn't need to be said, but crank phone calls, spitting on those who disagree, and threatening political opponents with a baseball bat are also out of bounds (all of which have been experienced by the Executive Director of the Concourse Authority, presumably by "progressives" who imagine somehow that their thuggish actions have something to do with "saving" Golden Gate Park).

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