Of all places, San Francisco, where people trip over each other to be ever-more-progressive and empathetic, Kathy Boudin’s little boy was recalled from his office of district attorney. Why? What does this mean? How could this happen?
The vote wasn’t close. Chesa Boudin was crushed, 60%-40%, which was in most ways shocking as he did pretty much what he told the people he was going to do when they elected him. And aside from property crimes and perceptions, it wasn’t turning out terrible. There was no huge spike in violence, and the increase in murders in Frisco weren’t as bad as many other places, particularly those where the district attorney couldn’t even spell progressive, no less be one.
Bret Stephens argues that progressives were “mugged by reality.”
Voter patience for what Mayor London Breed of San Francisco calls “all the bullshit that has destroyed our city” — aggressive shoplifting, rampant car burglaries, open-air drug use, filthy homeless encampments, sidewalks turned into toilets — is finally running thin.
Could it be that most of the Utopian theories about how intransigent social problems can be fixed with one cool progressive trick turned out to be…wrong? Mayor Breed was pretty progressive too, and yet she saw the quality of life in Frisco spiral down the toilet that its streets had become. The most zealous activists can argue, push, theorize and argue some more about why empathy toward the downtrodden should guide a city, a nation, but the reality is that the majority of people, deeply progressive in their own minds at least, just don’t want to live in that place.
Then again, it wasn’t really Chesa’s fault that this was happening. He was only the district attorney, not the street sweeper. Nancy Rommelmann went out there to try to understand what was driving the uber progressive residents to the polls.
The Tenderloin Center was created response to San Francisco registering 1792 accidental overdose deaths from 2019-2021. In December, Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin District.
“She said, ‘What we need to do is to have a place where people can go and access services right away,'” says Sandberg, of Breed’s decision to open the Tenderloin Center this past January. “It was great concept. People would come in and they would be able to access housing, mental health care, recovery services. As soon as they went in, they would do kind of a one, two, three quick assessment and then get them the help they need. It was a brilliant concept. Most of us in San Francisco were thrilled, were like, “Yay! This could actually happen.'”
It didn’t happen. The center immediately devolved, or more exactly, seemed to Sandberg set up to devolve. Touring the center (originally called Linkage Center) on launch day, Sandberg was told, “the center has a drug-consumption site. Anyone could come in and use any substance they want, including methamphetamine, crack, heroin, or fentanyl.”
Grand ideas are grand, but only if they work. It’s not an argument. It’s not a theory to be debated in ivy classrooms. It’s the Tenderloin Center, and either people partake of the services made available and change their lives for the better or shoot heroin. Guess which they chose?
Boudin did himself no favors in the run-up to the recall. Even as it became clear that voters were worried about public safety and crime, he refused to moderate either his policies or his messaging, often coming off as insensitive and defensive. Rather than take his critics seriously, Boudin’s strategy was to deflect responsibility and to brush off the recall effort as “racist,” “anti-immigrant,” and “anti-Chinese.” Boudin’s public image deteriorated even further after he was described as callous and dismissive by the parents of a 6-year-old who was murdered while watching fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Even if the charges against him were unfair, even if San Francisco’s crime problem reflects national trends, even if the homeless problem were beyond his control, Boudin should still have responded with something other than hand waving and deflection when his constituents made it clear that they felt unsafe. Ultimately, Boudin lost because he was more dedicated to his ideological project than to addressing the fears and interests of his constituents.
Chesa Boudin became the poster boy for a number of problems, some of which he caused but most of which he had no more to do with than any other social justice warrior spouting bumper sticker solutions to complex problems. As did so many other dogmatic zealots, he refused to see, to recognize, any possibility that his ideology was vapid gibberish, doomed to fail. Just because things are bad doesn’t mean any change is progress, any change is good. You can’t tell a person who is constrained to help their child step over bodies on the sidewalk that everything is swell and what they see before them isn’t there unless they’re a fascist.
The ready excuses for Boudin’s recall, that this was some Republican funded and generated scam on the dumbshits of Frisco, isn’t going to cut it. These were Dems coming to the sad realization that the fringe of their party was not the solution.
If elected Democrats continue to be seen to make life worse for their constituents—and if they continue to respond to that concern with aloof condescension and strict adherence to ideological purity—they will not only continue to lose progressives, but will also give up any chance at winning over moderates and independents. No doubt Republicans, and Trump himself, are salivating at the thought of running against such a party.
Will the result of the left’s mugging be the return of the repugnant right?
The list goes on, but the message is the same. When Kristol talked about liberals getting mugged by reality, he said it turned them into neoconservatives. It will be enough if today’s progressives, in the second mugging, find their way back to liberalism.
The alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good. It can always get worse. San Francisco makes that point. The most likely alternative is Trump or liberalism, and time is running out.