Editor’s Notes

Pub date August 19, 2008
WriterTim Redmond

› tredmond@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Chronicle has come up with a new name for the broad spectrum of political leaders and activists who make up the San Francisco left. We’re now "ultra-liberals."

The term first appeared in Heather Knight’s Aug. 15 article on the changes in the local Democratic County Central Committee. Her lead sentence was almost breathtaking in its drama: The party, she wrote, "has veered dramatically to the left, telling voters that on Nov. 4 they should elect a raft of ultra-liberal supervisorial candidates, decriminalize prostitution, boot JROTC from public schools, embrace public power, and reject Mayor Gavin Newsom’s special court in the Tenderloin."

There’s no question that the progressives made significant advances in winning control of the DCCC in June. And I think it’s entirely fair — and a good thing — that the party has veered to the left. It’s "dramatic," though, only because for so many years the Democratic Party in one of the world’s most liberal cities wasn’t particularly liberal at all: it was controlled by political machines and friendly to real estate developers and big business.

It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that San Francisco Democrats support public power and decriminalizing sex work and oppose military recruiting in the public schools. Those are pretty basic San Francisco values. What’s surprising is that it took a wholesale organizing effort and a huge battle to get the party to where it is today.

But I still cringe at the term "ultra-liberal."

David Campos, a Police Commission member (and generally a fairly even-minded guy) who is running for supervisor in District 9, called me this weekend to tell me he was laughing about the new tag: "It’s a badge of pride," he said. And of course, on one level, I agree with him.

But there’s something more to the story here. The way the Chron uses it, "ultra-liberal" is supposed to be a derogatory term, just a bit short of "radical" (or in another era, "commie." It suggests candidates who are out of touch with the mainstream, who don’t represent the majority, who can’t entirely be trusted.

I asked Knight what she meant by that term, and she had no comment. But here’s what I think is happening: Newsom’s political operatives are mad that the progressives have seized control of the term "progressive" — which is, in fact, an accurate and historically valuable term. They’d like to call Newsom a progressive mayor — which is inaccurate and historically invalid. But since they can’t get away with that, they’ve pushed the Chron to use another term for people like Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin, and the best the editors could come up with is "ultra-liberal."


Speaking of progressive issues: the move to reinstate JROTC in the public schools is really a wedge campaign that will be funded by downtown interests and used against progressives like Eric Mar, who is running in a more moderate district. The issue itself is a no-brainer. Do we want military recruitment programs in the public schools? The progressive candidates for school board need to stand up on this one and make it clear that they aren’t going to back down — JROTC has to go.