Guardian Tries to Sell Out
For decades, the Guardian and its staff have insulted the Weekly and its writers because we were purchased by an out-of-town corporation. Now that the Guardian is seriously entertaining the idea of selling to a corporate interest group led by out-of-towners ... well, this is the foie gras of Schadenfreude. The delicious hypocrisy is so thick it's spreadable, yet it melts in your mouth like ice cream.
No irony could possibly taste as good -- except maybe Chris Daly moving to the suburbs, a superior, self-proclaimed feminist claiming that his domestic violence issue is a private, family matter, or Supervisor David Chiu being betrayed by the very person he put into power. The fact that all of this happened, that progressive icons have feet of clay up to their necks, ought to tell us something.
The essence of the critique against San Francisco progressivism, after all, is that it demands that people be better than they really are. That it is more concerned with establishing who's holier-than-thou than it is actually getting things done. SF Weekly staff writer Joe Eskenazi and I have charted, at length, how that dynamic (among others) helped end the progressives' impressive, improbable 10-year dominance at the Board of Supervisors -- and the Guardian writers appear to be the only people in San Francisco who never understood how that worked.
Every time the Guardian's Tim Redmond ran New Year's resolutions for other people, every time Steven T. Jones said that bicyclists are morally superior beings, every time Editor and Publisher Bruce Brugmann swore that public power was just one more scathing editorial away, the Guardian was setting progressivism up as a movement that would succeed through superior virtue rather than superior policies.
Yes, they claimed their policies were better, too -- often correctly. But the essence of their argument was never "this makes sense," but rather, "This is what good people do." Disagreement wasn't an intellectual process, but a moral one: If you disagree with what good people do, you are a bad person. On a personal level, that's why I applied to work for the Weekly instead -- even though I genuinely believe the Guardian is interested in making a positive difference in its community, and I mostly agree with its policy recommendations. But the Weekly never asked me: "Are you a good person?" They asked me if I could write well and hold an argument together. I had no interest in working for an employer more concerned about the state of my soul than my pen.
This same dynamic, writ large, goes a long way toward explaining why the Guardian's brand of progressivism has appealed to so few in a place where so many agree with them about so much. As the progressive movement became more concerned with displaying its virtue than solving problems, San Franciscans began moving away from it, in part because we simply didn't believe progressives are any better than the rest of us.
And guess what? Former Supervisor Chris Daly moved to the suburbs, while the Chron's Chuck Nevius moved to the city. David Chiu rides a bicycle, and he stabbed progressives in the back. Meanwhile, Sheriff-in-limbo Ross Mirkarimi walked his long feminist voting record back, because dammit, it was about his family. And now the Guardian has named a price at which it will go corporate.
Progressives, too, are imperfect people, capable of making mistakes and selling out -- which everybody learned from the '60s except Guardianistas and the kids who flock to San Francisco from around the country thinking they'll find a place where nobody's really in it for the money. Poor, stupid kids.
Really, those of us who have been targets of the Guardian's holier-than-thou attitude for all these years deserve an apology -- but I'm not going to ask for one, because I'd expect it to be as poorly written as their insults.
I don't blame Brugmann for wanting to retire anymore than I blamed Daly for doing what he thought was best for his kids. Life is messy. People are imperfect. We have to live in a world where clear moral distinctions are hard to draw.
But progressivism, as a movement, will be much better off if it can put the obsessions of the Brugmann-era Guardian behind them and accept that people who are less than perfect can be part of the solution.
A Guardian that doesn't look down on the world it presumes to improve would be more effective and more honest.
A sense of humor would help, too. But I don't expect miracles.
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