The New Thing: San Francisco Reality, 6/18
Nellie Bowles on San Francisco
In The Atlantic, Nellie Bowles writes,
This approach to drug use and homelessness is distinctly San Franciscan, blending empathy-driven progressivism with California libertarianism. The roots of this belief system reach back to the ’60s, when hippies filled the streets with tents and weed. The city has always had a soft spot for vagabonds, and an admirable focus on care over punishment. Policy makers and residents largely embraced the exciting idea that people should be able to do whatever they want to do, including live in tent cities and have fun with drugs and make their own medical decisions, even if they are out of their mind sometimes. But then fentanyl arrived, and more and more people started dying in those tents. When the pandemic began, the drug crisis got worse.
. . .these are parables of a sort of progressive-libertarian nihilism, of the belief that any intervention that has to be imposed on a vulnerable person is so fundamentally flawed and problematic that the best thing to do is nothing at all. Anyone offended by the sight of the suffering is just judging someone who’s having a mental-health episode, and any liberal who argues that the state can and should take control of someone in the throes of drugs and psychosis is basically a Republican. If and when the vulnerable person dies, that was his choice, and in San Francisco we congratulate ourselves on being very accepting of that choice.
Bowles describes the mood as changing. She points to the recall of three school board members as well as the recall of progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Whatever mood the country is in, the sport of tossing libertarians under the bus is always in season. Among the few wins that libertarians like to point to this century have been marijuana decriminalization and efforts to reduce incarceration rates. I am afraid that the results are not so great as to justify such pride in the political victories.
On pocketbook issues, libertarian ideas are much better than they are perceived to be. Markets may not be perfect, but they beat the alternative. But on economic issues, we have been mostly losing since 2008.
Bowles quotes the mother of a drug addict.
Berlinn has five children, and is also raising Sylvester’s daughter. Since she posted that comment, she’s become an activist, calling on the city to crack down on drug sales, put dealers in jail, and arrest her son so he’s forced to become sober in jail, which she sees as the only way to save his life.
In the WSJ, Peggy Noonan writes,
Progressive politicians have been around long enough running cities that some distinguishing characteristics can be noted. One is they don’t listen to anybody. To stop them you have to fire them. They’re not like normal politicians who have some give, who tack this way and that. Progressive politicians have no doubt, no self-correcting mechanism.
Another characteristic: They are more loyal to theory than to people. If the people don’t like the theories the progressives impose, that’s too bad; the theory is pre-eminent.
The hard-core religious believers are not going to change. Their beliefs will only get stronger. But elsewhere, as Andrew Sullivan put it, the vibe is changing.
My sense is that there is now a strong longing for order. People are fed up with the excesses of progressives: inflationary spending, cities in decay, schools prioritizing race and gender, and the trans movement. On campus, woke progressives may still be able to intimidate their opponents. But elsewhere, their power may be waning.
Reality is sinking in. When food prices are soaring and stock prices are falling, people don’t have as much energy to spare engaging in symbolic fights over systemic racism and pronouns. When things got really bad under President Carter, he turned (too late) to deregulation, and the country turned to Ronald Reagan, who also embraced deregulation. I don’t know that we will be as fortunate today.