Friday, January 27, 2006

Bay Guardian: Old wine in a drab new bottle

Hard to see the point of the SF Bay Guardian's recent makeover, changing the look of the paper and moving Tim Redmond's column to the front page, as if the old look was a problem and Redmond's weekly ruminations merit more exposure. Wrong on both counts! The new Guardian looks washed-out and bland alongside the old. (In fact, the Guardian now looks a lot like the East Bay Express, which is odd, since that publication is owned by New Times, the same corporation that owns the SF Weekly, the Guardian's competitor in SF.) Do we really need Redmond's thoughts on the fantasy of impeaching President Bush on the front page of the city's leading progressive paper? Talk of impeachment is all the rage on the left now, but it's nothing but wishful thinking. Progressives seem to be hoping for an historical deux ex machina to rescue us from the Bush Administration, but we won't be rid of it that easily. We need to hunker down for three more years of a national Repug administration.

Redmond drags out Richard Nixon's corpse for ritual abuse before he tells us what we could already predict: he and the Guardian support the impeachment of President Bush. Oh, the glory days of 1974! The resignation of President Nixon, while a source of fond memories for old progressives, has nothing to teach us about this historical situation. And Redmond doesn't bother to make much of an argument for impeachment, except of course that Bush lied during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. But this won't do the job, since it's not at all clear that he did, keeping in mind that a lie is a deliberate untruth. Bush seemed sincere to me, maybe because I agreed with him, more or less. Yes, he and his administration clearly exaggerated the available evidence on Iraq's WMD programs. Even so, the WMD issue was not as clear-cut at the time as the president's political opponents now claim. The truth is that no one knew exactly what Iraq was up to before the invasion in 2003, since the UN weapons inspectors were expelled by Saddam Hussein way back in 1998. Wiretapping without warrants won't do it, either, since here too the president can make a plausible, if unconvincing, argument that such surveillance is necessary for national security during wartime. That argument is legally suspect but not criminal. Besides, Congress is controlled by Republicans. Who's going to bring impeachment charges, assuming some can be found that have any merit?

Instead of left-wing hysteria on national and international issues, what SF really needs from the Guardian is intelligent, in-depth coverage of local issues. When we want anti-war polemics, we can always turn to the Guardian's intellectual superiors at The Nation or the New York Review.

The Jan. 4 Guardian advertises "a political agenda for S.F." on the front page; inside, in an unsigned editorial, we get a mish-mash of questionable local political analysis and, yes, public power: "It's also time to put public power back on the top of the agenda." Public power is always on top of the Guardian's agenda, but it would be helpful if they took a similarly obsessive interest in other important city issues---like housing, for example.

Back in October, Tim Redmond and Matthew Hirsh wrote with justifiable alarm about the city's boom in luxury condos and market-rate housing, especially on the east side of the city. Redmond sounded the alarm: "This is the next battle for San Francisco. And there's no time to lose." Redmond hasn't mentioned the subject since.

In the Guardian's agenda editorial: "Newsom brags about housing the homeless, but as far as we can tell, his overall housing policy is driven entirely by the needs of private developers who want to build pricey condos." This is half-right. Can Mayor Newsom in fact claim some success in dealing with homelessness? Of course he can, but you will never read that in the Guardian. The Guardian also hammers the mayor for being ineffectual in stemming the city's homicide rate, as if the "community policing" approach advocated by progressives was anything but more wishful thinking. 

The Guardian calls Aaron Peskin's vote for Home Depot a "disaster," but that parcel was previously the site of a large furniture store, one of the few good locations in the city for a box store. Besides, Home Depot promised 100 jobs to Sophie Maxwell's constituents in District 10, where they are desperately needed. People of good will can disagree on the Home Depot issue, but calling it a disaster isn't analysis; it's hyperbole. Rincon Hill is a disaster; Home Depot is an innocuous blip on the city's planning screen.

The Guardian's real weakness is editorial and intellectual. We already know what they think on national and international issues, and we don't care. What we need is steady, reliable coverage of local issues week after week---coverage, by the way, relatively untainted by leftist ideology. It can be done. Under its current management, the Guardian apparently is incapable of providing that, and the city's political dialogue is the poorer for it.

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