The wildly successful recall of San Francisco’s progressive DA, Chesa Boudin, is sending shivers through the Democratic Party. Harbinger or outlier?
It has long been said, in certain circles, that everything flows out of California and into the Heartland by way of the East Coast. In other words, whatever is popular, hip, and happening in California’s major metropolitan areas today, by this reasoning, will be popular in Iowa in 10 years.
Plenty of cultural zeitgeists have indeed gotten their starts in sunny, perennially-progressive California.
According to no less an authority than California Governor Gavin Newsom, fresh off his own successful primary win yesterday, California is the “Antidote for America.”
Others, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is perhaps Gavin Newsom’s polar opposite, believe otherwise.
To California’s detractors, it’s homelessness crisis, high crime, astronomical cost of living, rolling blackouts, threat of wildfires due to poor forestry management as much as anything else (if not arsonists), all combine to make California a failing state and hardly a model of good governance.
The average cost of a house in California is upwards around $850,000- well outside the realm of possibility for most working-class U.S. families. The cost of a gallon of gasoline in California is now currently twice that of the national average as well.
Newsom and other wealthy Californians may not have any trouble with these numbers. Working-class people in California do, which is why California lost one congressional seat last census, and should have lost two. The Golden State is losing people for the first time in history and those fleeing California have made no secret of why.
The cost of living is too high, but the cost of living in California has always been too high. Taxes are far too high; but California’s taxes have always been far too high.
What has changed, is crime and homelessness- which many experts say are two closely linked phenomenons contributing to the sharp rise in crime in California and the exodus it is causing.
Skyrocketing crime has communities groaning under its weight, chief among them is the city of San Francisco.
Sympathetic journalists are always quick to point out that violent crime in San Francisco isn’t overly elevated; it is property crimes which are sending voters screaming to their representatives and local governments.
Whining about high crime in the Big City, many (wealthy) Californians in the media insist, is but the mark of a country rube: “That’s life in the big city, kid; don’t leave valuables in your car.”
What these influential Californians are failing to grasp, is that property crime is fundamentally transforming residential and commercial areas, making them well-nigh unlivable for people and businesses.
Some national retailers, after spending many times that of the chain’s national average on security and failing to avert near constant theft by shoplifting, have all but abandoned some areas.
Some chain retailers still operating in San Francisco are coming to resemble nothing so much as giant vending machines; every product behind unbreakable plexiglass and under lock and key.
Social media sites, online forums, and comment sections are rife with citizens complaining about conditions in San Francisco. Much ire is being directed at city and local leadership, including SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
While Chesa Boudin lost his recall- and by a large margin- progressive prosecutors in other parts of the country fared somewhat better in yesterday’s election.
Merely being a progressive prosecutor dedicated to reducing the prison population may not be enough to spell defeat at the ballot box. The cautionary tale of Chesa Boudin may be due to the unique set of circumstances besetting San Francisco.
Then, again, it might not be.
In nearby Los Angeles, which has been experiencing the same issues of crime and homelessness afflicting San Francisco, DA George Gascon may soon be facing the same gauntlet which unseated Boudin.
Elsewhere in the nation where crime has grown out of control, voters have already expressed their support for a return to the “tough on crime” criminal justice policies of yesteryear.
Former police officer and moderate Eric Adams was recently elected Mayor of New York on a promise to clean up the Big Apple’s newly crime-ridden streets, beset by shootings, stabbings, and people being thrown in front of moving subway cars.
In Chicago, where the homicide rate is as bad as it has ever been, and probably worse, the finger pointing between the city government, city leadership, and the police department is getting truly ugly.
Chicagoans are angry, and anxious to blame someone- anyone- for the crimewave saturating their city like a plague. The more flak elected officials get from angry taxpayers, the more there is to spread around.
There may even be a progressive-prosecutor matrix: Outcomes of local referendums on law and order probably depend on a number of factors, real and imagined.
There is the crime rate to be considered; there is also the media’s role in the public’s perception of the rising crime rate.
It’s no secret that the 24/7 news cycle and our short-attention span theater of a popular culture has turned the media landscape upside down. It’s now the Weekly World News as far as the eye can see; only the most radical, terrifying, rage-inducing, cringe-worthy, and clickable need apply.
Consequently, our cultural grasp of reality seems sometimes tenuous at best.
The newspaperman’s most basic role in society is that of curator, according to the effervescently talented and wildly successful Substack writer Bari Weiss, formerly of the New York Times.
She is correct. The media manager looks out over a vast landscape of potentially news-worthy events and decides what to amplify and what can safely be ignored. She is also correct that even landmark media outlets like the New York Times are too often failing in that most basic duty: Amplifying things that turn out later to have been false and ignoring newsworthy stories that end up being embarrassingly true.
There is also the question of high-profile re-offenders; violent criminals released early by lenient city prosecutors or low bail who go on to commit terrible crimes which receive a great deal of attention in the media.
All told, Boudin’s ignoble exit may have more to do with job performance than politics; you can be a progressive and still do a poor job.
Progressive prosecutors are walking a fine line between reform and recidivism. Some are faring better than others. For San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin, the bell has tolled.
San Francisco voters have spoken.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)