Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Memory Hole in Progressive Land

Maybe we should all re-read the complete works of George Orwell every year. Or at least Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the essay, "Politics and the English Language." Recall in particular the concept of the Memory Hole in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The memory a phrase in Newspeak which refers to a small chute leading to a large incinerator used for censorship in George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four...In the novel, the memory hole is a slot into which government officials deposit politically inconvenient documents and records to be destroyed. Nineteen Eighty-Four's protagonist Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth, is routinely assigned the task of revising old newspaper articles in order to serve the propaganda interests of the government.

These thoughts occur after reading Bruce Brugmann on Gavin Newsom's political past and future prospects. We of course don't have to burn documents to rewrite history; instead we just stop thinking and writing about things we want to forget and eventually they are in fact forgotten.

Brugmann---I presume he's the author of the Polonius-like editorial in the current Guardian---gives a stilted recap of Newsom as Mayor of San Francisco and urges him to reinvent himself as a Guardian-type progressive:

If he wants any kind of a political future, he needs to change. First, he needs to start engaging and working with the supervisors — even the ones who disagree with him. (Showing up for "question time" would be a huge step). He needs to take the city's structural budget deficit seriously and present plans for progressive taxes to help close it. He needs to show he can take on big powerful local interests — PG&E, for example — by opposing the utility's anti-public power initiative and putting his political capital on the line to support community choice aggregation. Newsom the imperial mayor has, we hope, been a bit humbled. Let's see if he comes out of this chapter as an embittered, angry (and ultimately unsuccessful) mayor committed to punishing his enemies — or a serious city leader who can live up to his own hype.

Embrace public power, the Guardian's long-time obsession---rejected many times by city voters---and submit to Chris Daly's Question Time dog-and-pony show, also rejected by city voters! That is, Newsom should act as if he wasn't reelected mayor in 2007 in a complete rout of city progressives, who couldn't even find a plausible candidate to oppose him.

But the truly remarkable thing about Brugmann's editorial is that in more than 750 words he never mentions the homeless issue, even though Newsom got Care Not Cash on the ballot, passed by concerned city voters in 2002, and then used the homeless issue to get himself elected mayor. It's not surpising that Brugmann doesn't want to think about the homeless issue, since the Guardian---and city progressives in general---so completely botched the issue over the past ten years: they failed to understand the political significance of the issue and how restless city voters were about the growing squalor on our streets. As a political journal, the Guardian failed in its coverage of the issue, with the Chronicle's Kevin Fagan and C.W. Nevius doing all the serious work on homelessness.

Homelessness is the issue on which Newsom showed real boldness and political courage; gay marriage, on the other hand, was a cinch to be popular in San Francisco. He was widely vilified by city progressives for Care Not Cash, which was portrayed by the Guardian and other lefties as nothing but a war on the poor. But Care Not Cash was just the beginning of Newsom's important policy initiatives on homelessness. It was soon followed with my favorite, Homeward Bound, which has thus far given 4,000 homeless people bus tickets out of town. And there's the ongoing Project Homeless Connect and an emphasis on supportive housing instead of the shelter system.

Newsom is competely conventional on other issues, including all the green stuff, housing and development, and the bicycle fantasy. His initiatives on homelessness were/are huge and will be his greatest legacy to San Francisco.

The Controller's report on Care Not Cash

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