As a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Republican who lives in Alameda and works in San Francisco, life is not always easy for me. My neighbors tell my wife and me, "You are Republicans, but we like you anyway." My workmates point out that only 6% of scientists are Republicans. So it is in this spirit of good natured ribbing that my boss, VP of Corporate Strategy, Jon Pittman, gave me a book, Conservative Survival Guide to San Francisco, for Christmas this year.
The subtitle of the book is a tale of two cities because Moyer believes that there are two versions of San Francisco that coexist in the same place:
- "On the one hand, there's the historic and culturally rich city of San Francisco... It's the San Francisco of lush greenery, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, and natural wonders like the City's famous Golden Gate Park. This is the San Francisco whose locals are peace loving, easygoing, open-minded and well educated." [Page 1]
- "But on the other hand, there's also the People's Republic of San Francisco... It is the San Francisco surrounded by the frigid and polluted Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco of hippies and drug addicts who lounge all day and then sleep all night in the city's infamous Golden Gate Park. It's the San Francisco whose locals are so pretentious about their liberal and 'educated' opinions that any opinion other than their own is subject to ridicule or derisive remarks." [Pages 1-2]
Moyer compares San Francisco to the setting and plot line of Stanley Kubrick's cold, dark war 1963 comedy Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Allow me to summarize by chapter.
"The Shock and Awe of San Francisco Social Life"
Although marijuana is a controlled substance and a federal offense to possess, San Francisco overlooks this law, and as a result, many residents have a "medical prescription" for marijuana. It is commonplace to see people openly toking in the streets, outside bars, and at sporting events. Public nudity is considered a first amendment right which adds to the mix. It is visible at events such as the Bay to Breakers race, World Nude Bike Ride, or numerous festivals throughout the city. Being culturally sensitive, San Franciscans say "Happy Holidays" to avoid excluding any of the various celebrations (e.g., Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah) that occur in December.
"Gearing Up for the Political Side of the City"
Instead of fostering a business-friendly climate for growth, San Francisco liberals want to regulate society to make it more "fair." Conservatives would rather follow in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan who cut government spending and lowered taxes which brought inflation down and cut double-digit interest rates which got the economy moving again. Liberals in San Francisco believe the wealthy do not pay enough in taxes even though "the IRS and Heritage Foundation reported that in 2008, the top 10 percent of wage earners paid 70 percent of federal taxes while the bottom 50% percent only paid 3 percent." Page 35
Although capitalism is what made America great, San Franciscans lean more towards socialism in terms of its policies. As such, they trust the public sector over the private sector.
"Consequence of San Francisco Policy"
Though San Francisco prides itself on being a green city with its recycling efforts, other sustainability-related issues like:
- Higher taxes on gasoline, designed to promote electric energy, make it difficult for people to take jobs that require a commute or hire quality employees at competitive salaries.
- The dangerous effects of improperly disposing of low energy consumption light bulbs are overlooked.
- Low flow toilets often do not produce enough water flow resulting in the need to flush more than once.
San Francisco spends more money per capita than almost any other city in the country. This results in high taxes which makes the city too expensive for policemen and fire fighters. In the event of a strong earthquake, these first responders will find it difficult to get back to the city to offer assistance. The high cost has also driven away families. San Francisco has lost 40% of its children over the last 50 years. As a sanctuary city, illegal immigrants flock to San Francisco, where they can be taken advantage of by employers who pay them less than minimum wage. Immigrants do not report this for fear of deportation.
"Kicking Yourself Out of the Closet"
Politicians make decisions that affect us every day and whether those effects are good or bad is often a matter of interpretation. San Francisco conservatives tend to be more moderate than those in the "solid red" parts of the country. San Francisco liberals tend to be more progressive, and can even be considered extreme, compared to any "solid blue" part of the country. Though many in San Francisco have been told that Republicans are evil, cold-hearted, and crazy, it is important that each side realizes that the other is also moral, acting out of what they believe to be the best interests of the country, state, or city. Regardless of how one interprets the effects of politicians' actions, it is important to get involved in the political process.
"Staying in Good Spirits While Surrounded by a Sea of Liberal Blue"
The three major forms of transportation in San Francisco are walking, bicycling, and driving. Each group derides the other two:
- Walkers complain when they are nearly hit by bicyclists.
- Bicyclists want to be treated like cars but do not obey traffic laws.
- Drivers loathe Critical Mass, a group of cyclists who cause disturbances by riding through busy streets, even fist fights with annoyed drivers who are just trying to get home at the end of a long work day.
Regardless of one's form of personal transportation, San Francisco has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. Like transportation, when it comes to improving society, there is a role for public and private participation. Liberals want to cure society's ills through taxation and public programs. Conservatives believe free enterprise is the way to address these ills such as the poor; contrary to what one would think, according to Real Clear Politics, conservative households donate 30% more to charity than liberal-headed households.
I enjoyed reading the book. It reinforced my observation that San Francisco is a collection of the good, the bad, and the misguided. No one political party has all the answers. Only by working together can we achieve a society that emphasizes personal freedom coupled with personal responsibility. I choose to enjoy San Francisco for its public transportation, weather, clean air, food, proximity to wine country, and of course, my coworkers at Autodesk. Many of them are Democrats, but I like them anyway. :-)
Practical conservatism is alive in the lab.