The Lessons of San Francisco
It's possible to be too woke for the wokesters
There is trouble in Left Coast Wokistan, and not everyone is taking it well.
Tuesday’s school board recall in San Francisco was an epic drubbing for uber-progressives in the bluest of blue cities, when more than 70 percent of the voters opted to remove three incumbents. The social justice warriors lost everywhere, in every district, and, apparently, every demographic.
And some are still in denial:
The usual cards were played:
But a reminder that we are talking here about San Francisco, a city that routinely delivers massive, Saddam-Hussein-level, margins for progressive Democrats, so it seems reasonable to think that there was more going on than “white supremacy,” COVID denialism, or an uprising by “segregationists.”
The reality is actually far more interesting, with lessons for politicians in less rarefied political jurisdictions.
This week’s uprising was clearly fueled by frustration with the pandemic and the prolonged shutdown of the schools in the city. But the real headline here seems to be that it’s possible to be too woke even for San Francisco. If Democrats were paying attention, there are flashing red warning signs about racial identity politics, historical erasure, and the attack on merit-based selection in schools.
There was also a lot of performative assholery and just plain stupidity: the tweets, the lawsuits, the murals, and the attempt to rename schools. In the end, the board became a caricature of racial equity politics that alienated nearly everyone.
You may know some of the story.
The board famously tried to change the names of 44 schools — including stripping the names of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Paul Revere, and Dianne Feinstein for ideological sins both real and imagined. And throughout the process, the board’s obsessive intolerance was matched only by its incompetence and ignorance.
As SFist reported, "the board committee mistakenly assumed that Alamo Elementary School was named for the Texas battle and not for the Spanish word for 'poplar tree'; and they cited incorrect history about Revolutionary War figure Paul Revere trying to steal land from the Penobscot people of Maine…”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of it.
*While reading out a Wikipedia entry on the beliefs of 19th-century poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell, a committee member stated that “he did not want Black people to vote.” In point of fact, a scholarly biography of the high school’s namesake states that he “unequivocally advocated giving the ballot to the recently freed slaves.” …
*Businessman James Lick was blackballed because committee members objected to his funding of the odious “Early Days” sculpture, depicting a prostrate Indian at the feet of white men. This monument was recently removed from Civic Center, and the committee cited a Curbed article in its discussion of Lick, who was stricken because of his connection with this artwork. Nobody appears to have closely read that article, however, which clearly notes that Lick underwrote the sculpture “posthumously,” via his estate. He died 18 years prior to its completion.
The whole debacle, as one local publication described it, was a travesty.
These are embarrassing, avoidable, and credibility-destroying errors. That’s a shame, because many of the names suggested by the committee are out-and-out no-brainers; if engaged earnestly, most San Franciscans could probably be convinced to accept a lot of these changes.
Then there was the mural.
The “Life of Washington” had been on the wall of a local high school for more than 80 years. But the board voted unanimously to paint it over, citing “changing sensitivities.” The move, which drew national attention, was panned by the Los Angeles Times editorial board:
It’s one thing to remove memorials that celebrate or advance a false narrative about the past, such as the notion that the Civil War was about something other than defending slavery and white supremacy. But painting over murals that accurately reflect our history because the truth might offend viewers moves us in the wrong direction.
There also were the tweets from board member Alison Collins.
“Many Asian Am. believe they benefit from the ‘model minority’ BS.” Collins wrote in 2016. “In fact many Asian American[s] actively promote these myths. They use white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead’.
“Where are the vocal Asians speaking up against Trump? Don’t Asian Americans know they are on his list as well?”
“Do they think they won’t be deported? profiled? beaten? Being a house n****r is still being a n****r. You’re still considered ‘the help.’”
Despite her social justice credentials, Collins’s comments about Asian-Americans were widely seen as stereotypical and even racist. Jenny Lam, the only Chinese American school board member, said that Collins’s tweets suggested that “for a group of people, Asian Americans, if you want to get ahead, you’re supporting white supremacy.”
Collins was less than apologetic.
She said the tweets were taken out of context and posted before she held her school board position. Collins refused to take them down or apologize for the wording and ignored calls to resign from parents, Breed and other public officials.
In response, Collins sued the district and her colleagues for $87 million, sparking yet another pandemic sideshow. The suit was dismissed.
The board further alienated Asian-Americans by voting to end Lowell High's merit-based admissions policy, citing "pervasive systemic racism" and a lack of student diversity. (The move was later overturned in court.)
And, all the while, the board was failing to re-open the schools. While board members were busy striking poses, the kids were suffering and parents were incensed.
The incumbents defended their record, saying “they prioritized racial equity because that was what they were elected to do.” But voters — and other city leaders — disagreed, and the result was this week’s electoral blowout.
Some Democrats are hoping the rest of the country is paying attention, Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg made a cameo appearance on social media:
Exit take: there are signs that the backlash in California isn’t confined to San Francisco. New polls show dismal numbers for other Democrats, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, and Gavin Newsome.
The Democratic governor’s failing grades on homelessness and crime blared from a new Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll. Three years into Newsom’s tenure, voters have seen so little progress on a protracted homelessness crisis that two-thirds believe Newsom has done a poor or very poor job on the issue — including half of Democrats and most independents. A majority said Newsom is faring poorly on public safety, and most say crime has worsened in the last year.
Exclusively for Bulwark+ members!
1. The RNC Thinks Phony Electors Engaged in ‘Legitimate Political Discourse’
Amanda Carpenter, in today’s Bulwark:
McDaniel, it turns out, isn’t that upset about hundreds of faceless Trump rubes being prosecuted by the Department of Justice for engaging in physical acts of trespass and violence on Jan. 6th. She’s pissed that RNC members are getting hit with subpoenas for participating in the phony electors scheme designed by the Trump campaign to deny Joe Biden his Electoral College victory…
The phony electors acted on behalf of an unconstitutional, anti-democratic plot to toss out millions of votes and overturn an election. And that’s the “legitimate political discourse” the RNC is proudly, though illegitimately, defending.
2. These Are the Issues Swing Voters Care About (And the Ones They Don’t)
Richard Thau in this morning’s Bulwark:
Let’s dispense first with the items that many people think will matter to these respondents, but in reality don’t:
Biden’s Supreme Court nominee: Last week I asked 12 Trump-to-Biden voters to tell me whether the retiring justice, Stephen Breyer, is a liberal or conservative. Three knew. The rest gave me blank stares. These people, while aware that Breyer is retiring, simply do not think about the personnel on the Court enough for it to affect their voting behavior.
Not passing Build Back Better (BBB): Most respondents don’t know what’s in the legislation, so not passing it will make zero difference to them. When I asked about the failure to get BBB through Congress, respondents frequently confuse it with other Biden initiatives. One February respondent, for example, said he wanted BBB to pass because a Pittsburgh bridge had recently collapsed. He was unaware that a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill had been signed by Biden months ago.
Not passing voting rights legislation: As with Build Back Better, most voters I interview don’t know what’s in the legislation. And as I wrote last month, swing voters don’t diagnose the crisis with democracy the way you or I might. They’re more concerned about politicians’ lies and corruption, not whether voting rights are being constrained.
This newsletter could easily have been written in a way to show that Democrats are taking action against their own pols that have gone too far. It could have been written in a positive voice that acknowledged Democratic leaders and voters are taking concrete steps to fix our perception problem. That they are taking the advice the Bulwark has been giving them for months now.
Instead the focus is "Boy, are these people crazy or what?" With the implication being that the people voted out and making out there comments on twitter represent the Democratic party. The new mayor of San Francisco is only mentioned once, and that by her last name without acknowledgment that she's the mayor, in a pulled quote from the NY Post,
This is illustrative of the "communication problem" people complain that the Democrats have. Even a site that says it wants them to succeed, The Bulwark, when it has a chance to tell a story about how Democrats are turning it around on culture war issues instead focuses on "look how crazy these people are" by finding the most far out there people and saying the represent the Democratic party.
I totally get JVL's nihilism and am on board with it.
Charlie, I'm going to challenge you on three things.
1. What exactly does the term 'woke' mean in the context that you're using it? Being 'too woke' doesn't make any sense, because being 'woke' is a descriptor. It's like trying to say a car is too 'metal.' You can't make it more metal. Either you are or you are not. And in the context you're using it, it sounds like you just mean 'everything that I don't like is woke.' Which I believe the newsletter from Tom Nichols you linked a few days ago would have something to say about.
2. On the matter of the mural, have you SEEN it? It depicts pretty stereotypical interactions between white settlers and native americans, you know, the ones those settlers then genocided. As soon as I saw it, I went 'oh, now I see why they wanted that removed.' That said, my opinion is the same as it was on those people who removed the statue of Jefferson; a free people can decide what they want around. I don't really care one way or another if they keep or remove it. And I'm not sure it's morally good or bad to keep or remove it either.
3. The main thing I want to point out is this: if they're being slagged for 'not keeping schools open' you might as well close down the bulwark and retire. Why? Because as far as I can find, the last time schools in San Francisco were closed was in August, meaning six months ago. If people are voting NOW about things that happened THEN, then nothing you or anyone else says has any actual importance anymore. I don't mean that in a hostile way. I mean that we have reached a point now where people's attitudes are set, and new information does not settle in. They're mad NOW about things that are so far in the past, that they are no longer happening.
It also means that no advice you or anyone else can give has any importance or merit, because it means that people are already set in stone about where they are. Again, if people are mad that schools were closed six months ago and haven't been closed since, but are mad about 'lockdowns' then we have reached a point where people are no longer reachable in any rational way. We have reached a point where everyone is mad about covid restrictions, but there really aren't any restrictions anymore anywhere.
As an aside, noticed you didn't say anything about your friend Youngkin passing a law in Virginia banning masks in schools. Guess when Democrats overreach, it's a catastrophe, but when the GOP uses the power of the state to stop localities from doing what they think is best, you're very quiet. But then, that's the paradox isn't it?
If things like the Bulwark and others have power to change minds, then they're spending their time supporting the GOP by being anti-anti-GOP. If they don't, then nothing they write matters, so they can write whatever they want.
But I can't help but think you would be better off if you tried to cut this Gordian knot, because again, if people are voting about how people acted months or years ago into the pandemic, then we might as well stop covering politics, because people no longer actually care about what's going on now, and are instead living perpetually in a fantasy world of their own making.