CRB: San Francisco values

With its Fall 2015 number, the Claremont Review of Books celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. It has rolled out a new site. It has sent its characteristically excellent new issue off to the printer. And it has let me dip in to the issue to select a few pieces to bring to the attention of Power Line readers. (Subscription services are accessible via the CRB home page linked above — a bargain at $19.95.)

Editor Charles Kesler remains in charge; he has made the magazine an irreplaceable resource since Volume I, Number 1, 15 years ago. If you enjoy books about politics, history, and culture, or want to continue your education and deepen your thought about them, it will do the job.

At my request, the CRB editors have posted Michael Anton’s essay “San Francisco values” for Power Line readers from the new issue. Anton elaborates on “the confluence of hippie leftism and filthy lucre which is the distilled essence of ‘San Francisco Values.'”

The late, great Jeane Kirkpatrick disparaged “San Francisco Democrats” in her brilliant speech to the 1984 GOP convention that renominated Ronald Reagan as the party’s candidate for president. Their doctrinal impetus, according to Ambassador Kirkpatrick, was to “blame America first.” Listening to Kirkpatrick’s speech online this morning, I am struck all over again by the salience of her observations.

Those San Francisco Democrats, however, have come into their own in the Age of Obama. They seem to be having the last laugh. But I digress.

Anton steps back and puts San Francisco in perspective. He captures San Francisco’s liberalism as a form of conspicuous consumption for the 1 percent:

Salon founder and CEO David Talbot, in his book Season of the Witch (2012)—a more sustained effort of civic self-praise than a Zenith Booster Club pamphlet penned by George Babbitt himself—defines “San Francisco Values” as “gay marriage, medical marijuana, universal health care, immigrant sanctuary, ‘living’ minimum wage, bicycle-friendly streets, stricter environmental and consumer regulations.” As short summaries go, this is not a bad sampling of the incoherent impulses underlying modern liberalism: hedonism, utopianism, suicidal altruism, triviality, overblown responses to sensible concerns—they’re all there.

Or almost. Talbot’s formulation leaves out—deliberately—one crucial element because it seems not merely to stand in direct contradiction to the others but actually to undermine the warm glow of compassionate sanctimony they are intended to cast. And besides, talking about money is a little vulgar.

As should be obvious to everyone by now, in America (and in the developed world more generally), the very rich are different from you and me. They’re far more left-wing.

With a nod to Aristotle’s Politics, Anton continues: “This appears to be a new phenomenon in history.”

Anton holds that, in lieu of clamoring for redistribution, “liberalism now gratefully accepts whatever crumbs wealth deigns to bestow—and in return treats wealth with the obsequious deference of a court eunuch.”

How this happened—and especially its San Francisco pedigree—Anton seeks to explain. “It’s long been a truism that California is the political and cultural bellwether for the nation,” he writes. “But this particular export remains underappreciated.”

Anton entertains as he instructs in this provocative essay. He helps us see and think through what is happening here.