Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Letter from California-December 16, 2003

When Bill Clinton was president, he was fond of coming to California and he dropped in on us often. When he did, he always ordered bagels from the bagel company that I used to work for, which made me very proud. Like him or not, Clinton was the President of the United States, and he was Jonesing for our stuff! It sounds silly, but we were thrilled.

Last week, the former President came back to California in support of a Democrat running for office, but this time he wasn’t gamely throwing himself in front of the Schwarzenegger juggernaut. In fact, he wasn’t campaigning against a Republican at all. He was out to support Gavin Newsom, Democrat, against Matt Gonzalez of the Green Party in a very close and contentious race for Mayor of San Francisco. The Republicans didn’t even have a candidate in the race. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it after the primary election that eliminated all but the liberal Democrat and the even more liberal Green, “All that’s Left is Left.”

Indeed, the reconstituted “Green Party” is little more than the second coming of the Communist Party. The people and money behind the now-fashionable Greens are the same folks who brought you the basic idea that if only we copied the U.S.S.R’s ways, everything would have turned out much better. A decade has passed since the Soviets closed up shop, and there are plenty of young people in places like San Francisco who don’t really remember what the Cold War was all about.

Now, with a hip new name, the Greens are tapping into the kind of post-adolescent anger that fuels most on-campus flag-burning to this day. The Jurassic-era slogan “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30” may have been modified a little (Gonzalez is 38), but the sentiment is the same. Newsom, the Democrat, has actually had a job! He has actually spoken up in support of businesses! He has the gall to say that he thinks the city of San Francisco ought to address its truly stunning homeless problem with “care, not cash.” The program Newsom has devised may or may not be effective, but the intent is that rather than merely lavishing benefits on the homeless (a homeless person in San Francisco can currently collect approximately $400 a month) the City should offer ways to improve their condition more permanently so that they would eventually not be reliant on government goodness.

Gonzalez agrees that cash isn’t the solution to the homeless problem. In addition to cash, and more of it, he feels that the City should build and provide housing, elaborate job training, and a minimum wage of $8.50. Not a bad deal, really. I bet quite a few of last spring’s High School graduates would be interested in that package. Imagine it. A guidance counselor sits with his young charge, reviewing his options: college, a stint in the Army, maybe an apprenticeship in a local business, or, hey, here’s a brochure for becoming a homeless guy in San Francisco. Lots of perks, courtesy of the hip new Mayor, but you’ll have to get used to the bad weather and not getting to shower much.

You might be relieved to know that Newsom won, but only by 53% to 47%, and only after outspending Gonzalez 10 to 1. It’s certainly not outrageous to think that a “Green” could become mayor of San Francisco someday soon. In fact, if I were in Vegas right now and had to bet on red, Republican, or Green for which party would produce the next non-Democratic mayor of San Francisco, I’d have to put my chip on Green.

Have no fear. San Francisco isn’t exactly a good predictor of where California, or anyplace, is heading. A couple months ago, when 10,000,000 Californians were washing Gray Davis right out of their hair, San Francisco County went against the recall by 81%. San Francisco, while charming, beautiful, and unique, has become an island of extremism. Propose a law banning urinating in public and risk being considered the greatest evil since Hitler. Suggest that legal immigrants should have rights and privileges not enjoyed by illegal immigrants and you might as well be walking around wearing a white cape and hood.

While it’s not a worry of mine that the Green virus will spread very far, it’s a tribute to the power of good marketing that a worn-out old idea like Communism can make this kind of a nifty comeback. It goes to show how far you can get with a new brand name, a good-looking young spokesman, and a sympathetic target audience. Hey, these people should start some kind of business. Oh, wait, I forgot. Communists don’t do that kind of thing.

What a pity.

By the way, if you’re thinking of getting me a Christmas gift (and I’m sure some of you are), go to http://www.uso.org and buy a phone card for a G.I. in Iraq. They can’t be with their families and friends, but you can make it easier for them to have the next best thing.


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