Editor's Notes

These days being progressive isn't about real estate — it's that the level of economic inequality has risen to levels unseen since the late 1920s.


Former Mayor Willie Brown says that choosing a person of color for a leadership position should be a progressive value. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu says the new mayor, Ed Lee, is a progressive. Several supervisors and other political observers say the six-vote progressive majority on the board is gone.

And nobody really talks about what that word means.

Progressive is a term with a long political vintage, but it's changed (as has the political context) since the 1920s. (Progressives these days aren't into Prohibition.) So I'm going to take a few minutes to try to sort this out.

I used to tell John Burton, the former state senator, that a progressive was a liberal who didn't like real estate developers. But that was in the 1980s, when the Democratic Party in town was funded by Walter Shorenstein and other developers who were happy to be part of the party of Dianne Feinstein, happy to be liberals on some social issues (Shorenstein insisted that the Chamber of Commerce hire and promote more women), and happy to promote liberal candidates like John and Phil Burton for state and national office — as long as they didn't mess with the gargantuan money machine that was high-rise office development in San Francisco.

But these days it's not all about real estate; it's that the level of economic inequality in the United States has risen to levels unseen since the late 1920s. So I sat down on a Saturday night when the kids went to bed(yeah, this is my social life) and made a list of what I think represent the core values of a modern American progressive. It's a short list, and I'm sure there's stuff I've left off, but it seems like a place to start.

This isn't a litmus test list (we've endorsed plenty of people who don't agree with everything on it). It's not a purity test, it's not a dogma, it's not the rules of entry into any political party ... it's just a definition. My personal definition.

Because words don't mean anything if they don't mean anything, and progressive has become so much of a part of the San Francisco political dialogue that it's starting to mean nothing.

For the record: when I use the word "progressive," I'm talking about people who believe:
1. That civil rights and civil liberties need to be protected for everyone, even the most unpopular people in the world. We're for same-sex marriage, of course, and for sanctuary city and protections for immigrants who may not have documentation. We're also in favor of basic rights for prisoners, we're against the death penalty, and we think that even suspected terrorists should have the right to due process of law.
2. That essential public services — water, electricity, health care, broadband — should be controlled by the public, not by private corporations. That means public power and single-payer government run health insurance.
3. That the most central problem facing the city, the state, and the nation today is the dramatic upward shift of wealth and income and the resulting economic inequality. We believe that government at every level — including local government right here in San Francisco — should do everything possible to reduce that inequality. That means taxing high incomes, redistributing wealth, and using that money for public services (education, for example) that tend to help people achieve a stable middle-class lifestyle. We believe that San Francisco is a rich city, with a lot of rich people, and that if the state and federal government won't try to tax them to pay for local services, the city should.
4. That private money has no place in elections or public policy. We support a total ban on private campaign contributions, for politicians and ballot measures, and support public financing for all elections.


Progressives have had ten years to move this agenda.

Why might Tim Redmond be calling to move the same agenda that has been unmovable for that decade?

What might progressives do differently to move this agenda?

None of this is answered in this typically hand wringing piece.


Posted by marcos on Jan. 12, 2011 @ 8:41 am

The bottom line: Every government taxes its citizens so it can perform its mandated functions. Inevitably this entails some redistribution of wealth. It also enforces the rules through the state apparatus. A government that taxes and spends to favor the rich, and enforces laws to favor a privileged class is right-wing. A government that taxes and spends to favor the poor and enforces laws equitably is left-wing, or progressive. Simple indicator: Leftwing policies narrow the income gap; rightwing policies widen it.

In America wealth and privilege have long been very skewed on race and gender. Eliminating those discrepancies, equalizing economic opportunity for all requires including women, GLBT people, and people of color in politics. But as we see with Clarence Thomas, Dianne Feinstein, Condi Rice, Michelle Malkin, Ward Connerly, Theresa Sparks, etc...an individual's color and sex are not a reliable indicator of progressivism. Jim Hightower, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich are better than the lot of them on these issues. Clarence Thomas' career especially has been based on the fact that he would eagerly rule against civil rights principles in a way that would be clearly racist were a white man doing it.

I don't know enough about Ed Lee to have an opinion on him as Mayor. I am very glad that San Francisco, time and again, has proven itself above racism and sexism in our elections and appointments, but we have reached a point where the flag of inclusion and identity politics can obscure the more basic questions of equalizing economic opportunities and whether our city's taxation policies and services favor the concentration of wealth or amelioration of discrepancies.

Thurgood Marshall said that if a snake bites you it doesn't matter if that snake is black or white. When a fat cat like Willie Brown touts Ed Lee's color as a sign of progressivism, I remember Asians like Nguyen Cao Ky, Michelle Malkin, and Chang Kaichek and have to wonder what else -- if in fact anything -- might qualify him as a progressive.

Posted by Guest Jack Fertig on Jan. 12, 2011 @ 9:05 am