by Joel Kotkin
Thursday, 9
June 2022
Analysis
07:15

The progressive revolution is in retreat

Across the country, liberals and moderates are calling time on woke excesses
by Joel Kotkin
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin has been voted out of office. Credit: Getty

California may be the incubator of some of the worst political trends of our times — affirmative action, climate hysteria, identity politics — but it is also capable of reversing those trends, and those of the nation as well. Yesterday the Golden State shattered the Left’s urban wall, replacing a far-Left prosecutor, Chesa Boudin, in San Francisco. There is now a growing drive to remove LA’s leftist DA, George Gascon, Boudin’s predecessor, who will face Rick Caurso in a run-off.

LA’s election represents arguably the biggest pushback thus far to progressivism. The city, which has been solidly left-of-centre for a generation, placed Caruso, a former Republican billionaire, in first place for LA’s Mayoralty against longtime progressive political leader, Karen Bass. There’s even growing talk of a similar takedown next winter in Chicago, the home of Barack Obama, where crime problems and economic challenges easily match those of its Californian counterparts.

Perhaps these developments are best seen as an expression of an incipient urban rebellion — not against liberalism but the most extreme woke policies. Interestingly, it is minority voters — black people in New York, Asians in San Francisco, Hispanics in the Southwest — who are driving this trend.

The election of New York’s Eric Adams was certainly the most celebrated case, but there has been pushback against progressive policies in Austin, Seattle and Buffalo, in which voters defeated a socialist-backed Democrat in favour of a moderate candidate. Even in San Francisco, progressive school board members were overwhelmingly defeated in February 2022, an ominous foreshadowing of Boudin’s ignominious loss.

Voters are responding to obvious decline. The relatively poor economic recovery of the deep blue states is one thing, but the rise in crime, particularly in public spaces like subways and among destitute populations, does not make a persuasive case for cities. Even as he endorsed Karen Bass, former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said:

“I have lived here my entire life. I have never seen this city so dirty, so rudderless. Homeless everywhere, crime going up, and there just seems to a be a lack of urgency, a lack of any kind of all-hands-on-deck approach to these crises.”

It would be a mistake to see the LA and San Francisco pushback as a call to conservatism. No Right-wingers are winning in big cities and those with Republican credentials, like LA Mayoral aspirant Caruso, are having to shift parties and embrace liberal social positions. There is not much room for gun-toting, abortion abolitionists or open MAGA supporters.

The real significance here could be if the urban counter-rebellion stirs debate within the Democratic Party itself. The kind of non-enforcement of crime associated with the Left does not seem to be particularly popular with voters, and the weakness of urban economies — notably New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — suggest that city politicians are going to have to make difficult choices on taxes and other issues.

As the party of urban America, the Democrats need to produce a different set of policies. Under Joe Biden’s feckless leadership, the Democratic Party has embraced positions on crime, immigration and education that are rejected even by many core constituencies. If places like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco can begin to see reason, there’s some hope that the voters can kick some sense into the old donkey’s head.

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Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 months ago

The kind of non-enforcement of crime associated with the Left does not seem to be particularly popular with voters

Well, it was those same voters who brought people like Boudin in, so I guess it actually was pretty popular. This really isn’t a case where a politician wins on topic A and then does unrelated thing B, where a comment like “B is not particularly popular with the voters” can make sense. Boudin implemented exactly the policies he promised. What happened here is the ultra-left wing voters of California got exactly what they wanted, and then discovered it was a bad idea. Quite why they had to figure this one out the hard way is a bit unclear, but that’s what happened.

Last edited 2 months ago by Norman Powers
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

They got mugged by reality and then they got mugged by muggers!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Yup.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Sure, but then people don’t, say, realistically become fanatical pro-marketeers one day and radical socialists the next, and yet we have an alternation of power in most western nations. People vote on a lot of issues, are influenced by the dominant political rhetoric (empty or not), where they work (public or private sector) and most of all the desire to punish the lot actually IN power, whom they, not without reason, blame more than the opposition. The electorate (as a whole) is rarely ideologically or even logically consistent – low taxes and Scandinavian levels of welfare and social services is a popular combination!

Harry Child
Harry Child
2 months ago

Why on earth do you journalists refer to these left wing activists as progressives there is nothing progressive about ‘defund the police’, affirmative action or identity politics when it leads to rising crime and dirty cities. Clem Atlee called it right when he remarked
There are a lot of clever people about who have no judgement

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Harry Child

Exactly. Hence my definition of woke: the authoritarian pseudo-progressive usurpation of liberalism.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

…you get an “A” for appul for that one.

Karen Cox
Karen Cox
2 months ago
Reply to  Harry Child

What would you replace ‘identity politics’ with?

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

In the US, the Declaration of Independence might be a helpful reference. Self evident truths and all that.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

Reality. Apart from sex, which is objectively verifiable, the other “protected characteristics” in the UK Equalities Act 2010 are all open to debate. How far back does a black ancestor have to be to qualify? How many times does one need to go to church to qualify as a Christian? How many steps must you be unable to take to qualify as disabled??

Harry Child
Harry Child
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

Reality and common sense

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

…politics for people?

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 months ago

Unfortunately, Michael Shellenberger, who might have received a mention here, didn’t get enough run-off votes to allow him to run against Gavin Newsom in November. His sensible anti progressive solutions to crime, homelessness and addiction would have been salutary. To quote, “We have a Statue of Liberty in the East. Now, more than ever, we need a Statue of Responsibility in the West.” The r word I guess is still just a little too radioactive for the golden state.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 months ago

A few advanced units may have been pushed back but these people have gained a huge amount of ground in the war they’ve been fighting, without resistance, for decades.

They will consolidate their position, and, when the massed ranks of recruits being churned out by the Ivy League are in place, return to battle.

joe hardy
joe hardy
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

That’s a pessimistic but noteworthy view. Don’t forget that the country is also populated by Obama’s “clingers”. One day, you may appreciate the people who cling to their God and guns.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 months ago

People vote for these ideas – no matter how wrong-headed they might be – out of a sort of penance of their own privilege*.
They are in the luxury position that their own lives are just fine, so they vote for what they perceive to be “nice” and “good”.
Then later reality comes to bite them.

*I use that word carefully but specifically. Not in the vapid progressive sense.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
2 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

There is nothing so powerful in current politics as liberal white guilt, especially from upper middle class liberals.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 months ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

It’s astonishing to observe the obsequiousness of upper class white guilt. In particular, the only enclave in San Francisco that voted to keep Boudin in as DA was littered by such pathetic creatures.

Last edited 2 months ago by Cathy Carron
Hugh Jarse
Hugh Jarse
2 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Actually, I suggest it should more properly be ‘….reality comes to bite others.’ Boudin’s supporters were of a class that was largely removed from any risk so could impose this Soros inspired ultra-progressive experiment onto others with little comeback.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 months ago

This doesn’t sound that encouraging to me. What will be accomplished if Caruso and some other Republican-lights get elected? At best it makes the problems less acute but that only prolongs the agony. Sadly, I think the best thing for California would be for these insane policies to reach their natural conclusions. It will be very ugly if it happens. I have lived in California and the people there are like cult members or drug addicts (I met many who are both, actually). They will need to hit rock bottom to reconsider their deranged worldview. Until reality punches them in the face, they won’t learn.

Karen Cox
Karen Cox
2 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Please specify what is ‘deranged’ in the progressive worldview? What should replace it, the conservative view that there is a Great Chain of Being into which we are all born and where we are all stuck, with rich white males on top and the rest of us eternally assigned the job of servants to the Important People?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

Shades of gray, not be you.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

Define “woman”.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

“the conservative view that there is a Great Chain of Being into which we are all born and where we are all stuck”
I’m a lifelong conservative in my late 50’s, and have never heard that one. WTF are you talking about??!? Woke weirdo.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

It should not be surprising how naieve most Americans are to the dangers of the left and socialism, given that they have never ever had left wing politicians in their history

Garrett R
Garrett R
2 months ago

Whichever party seizes the perception of the “rational and sensible” will run the table. Ds could win both houses comfortably if they adopted a reasonable border policy, did more on housing, proposed a slightly more restrictive abortion policy, and toned down the student debt rhetoric.

Rs could win if they didn’t give in to the absolute extremes of gun enthusiasts or pro life crowds and if they could push an actual economic plan that’s not from the 1980s. Tax cuts and deregulation aren’t the kind of treatment needed. America is in more of a 1940s-1950s need for rejuvenation. Much larger scale.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  Garrett R

Qui carpet terram centram victor ludorum.

Karen Cox
Karen Cox
2 months ago

You’re wrong about Austin. Last fall we trounced the ‘give the cops all the money’ Astroturf initiative. We’re not going Red any time soon.