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The Boys of Summer

Dec
9
2003

Of all people, it was Presidential hopeful – at least for now – Sen. John Kerry who put the San Francisco mayor’s race in focus.
As I listened to Kerry talk about sustainable fuels and environmental policy Monday night at the Julia Morgan Ballroom, I realized Kerry was saying many of the same things I’d heard on Saturday night at a “Pacific Heights Penthouse Fundraiser Cocktail Party for Matt Gonzalez.”
In other words, the policies espoused by the middle-of-the-road Democrat – the one “everyone” thinks can beat Bush – are the same as those endorsed by San Franciscans who claim to be supporting Gonzalez, a Green Party member and something of a self-styled rebel. “It is Matt, ironically enough, who supports the traditional values and principles of the Democratic Party,” the Pac Heights crowd was sure to say in their press release.
Well, as Joan Walsh observes again and again in today’s Salon, those principles don’t include the ability to tell one black person from another, good manners or intelligent, reasoned critique.
So how did a bunch of well-meaning people sincere in their convictions come to support Gonzalez? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question, as many as there were people in the two rooms. But one bubbled up pretty quickly as Chet Helms, spoke.
Helms is an elegant and graceful man who loves the Haight today as much as he did when he arrived here in 1962. But his sentiments summed up, at least for me, much of the energy that’s powering the Gonzalez campaign. It’s a nostalgia trip. It’s a longing – as Helms was visibly doing Saturday night – for a time in which Progressive politics really were on the cutting edge, leading to a better future. San Francisco led the nation, led Democratic politics and politicians for the better part of two decades and the Progressives were right, not just politically but morally and socially. They had the answers.
The stakes were high, too. Emotions – rightly – were pitched. The anger and frustration over the Vietnam War, the sadness and mourning over the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the emotional chaos and confusion created as the city’s gay community watched as Harvey Milk was slain and then young and younger men died painfully and slowly, was genuine and searing and, oh man, a hell of motivator. There was a sound track, too, a good one. And the conviction that change was absolutely essential helped turn this city into the nation’s Progressive corporate headquarters.
But these days, the cutting edge in San Francisco politics are decisions about whether the city can plan its future more carefully than it has done in the recent past. The debates are over patronage jobs – let me tell you something, it’s only patronage when the other guy is giving away jobs – and bond issues. That’s not to say the life or death issues have been resolved. The fight to build a more inclusive society is never over. The vigilance necessary to maintain a free society should never relax. But those issues aren’t a sexy as they once were. And they’re a lot more confusing, too.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is a creepy guy whose regard for the constitution is, well, let’s just say he has an odd way of showing it as he jails illegal immigrants on questionable pretenses, hammers shut the nations borders so children are left to cross miles of desert alone, and defends policies that keep U.S. Citizens in jail, isolated and without lawyers for months at a time. But take the other side and, well, it’s hard to defend “terrorists” isn’t it?
And if you want to see where this fight is being fought – go online. Talk to the folks in the computer business. They’re the ones who are waging that war. Some of them are going to line up behind Matt Gonzalez, for sure. He talks the talk. That’s why you’re seeing Gonzalez posters in the back of late-model BMW’s (“Don’t look back, you can never look back”). But many of them are also going to be Gavin Newsom supporters. Newsom’s business-like sensibility – his government wonkishness – appeals to their sense that something isn’t right in the way this city runs. The atmosphere that lets Progressive Corp. flourish is also one that subtly undermines Gonzalez, too. In San Francisco in particular, being progressive and making money aren’t warring opposites. But being inept and making money are.
Because of the intensity of the campaign, who ever wins this race is teed up for national political attention. That’s particularly true for Gonzalez. The Greens would score big time points if their come-from-behind guy triumphed over a self-styled moderate Democrat. And the California Democratic Party would, once again this year, look like dopes.
But a Newsom victory might also serve up a long overdue whallop the self-righteous Holy Lefties who seem to think — despite lots of evidence to the contrary — that they’re on the forefront of the next bout of sweeping change. They ain’t. Instead, they’re running the Kewl Kids’s Klub For Korrect and Virtuous Thinkers. Their past glory – and their reveling in it as they decide who gets in the Klub, who gets kicked out, who’s going to get double secret probation — hasn’t translated into votes at the national level. Perhaps, for the first time in a while, it may fail to do so locally.

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