Lawmakers should have been listening to sound conservative policies all along

Winston Churchill famously observed that Americans will always do the right thing, only after they’ve tried everything else. It seems that San Francisco may be trying to emulate Churchill’s pithy observation.

Yes, this is another rant about San Francisco’s descent into dysfunction and squalor. Criticizing the mess in San Francisco is so easy that I sometimes feel like one of the Italian partisans who put the last few bullets into Mussolini’s lifeless body as it hung from a street lamp. With the publicized flight of business and residents from the city and the sprawling homeless encampments, and with crime and drug use having made a ghost town out of the once-thriving downtown, it seems hardly sporting to challenge their policy choices.

But perhaps San Francisco is finally getting desperate enough to try “the right thing,” after trying enabling approaches like needle exchanges, safe injection sites, lavish support, and lax policing. In the recent election, San Francisco voters passed Proposition F, a measure promoted by progressive mayor London Breed, which requires welfare recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits and to undergo treatment if they test positive. If they fail to, they will lose their benefits, which range up to $712 per month in cash. 

Trent Rhorer, the executive director of the San Francisco Human Service Agency that administers the benefits, said in a Feb. 5, 2024, Associated Press story, “To give someone who is addicted to fentanyl $700 per month, I don’t think it helps improve their lives.” A handout of that much cash, and San Franciscans wonder why they have so many addicted homeless? In 2023, 800 San Franciscans died of fentanyl overdoses.

This is not a new idea. Conservatives have been pushing such plans for decades, much to the indignant howling from the left about punishing addiction and marginalizing communities, and the usual chorus of leftist rhetoric and jargon from the homeless-support industry. Of course, what is new is that it is now being pushed by progressives who are under intense political pressure from outraged citizens to finally do something about San Francisco’s condition, flummoxing the leftist activists who aren’t as nimble at reversing course as are the job-protecting politicians.

Other proposals to allow the police to pursue suspects in property crimes and to use drones and surveillance—two previously forbidden practices—also passed.

Not long ago, San Francisco voters surprised many by throwing out a hard-core progressive district attorney who disdained prosecuting criminals, preferring to prosecute cops for misconduct charges. His more conservative replacement outraged many of the progressive true believers by refusing to prosecute a Walgreens security guard who, after being attacked by a shoplifter who was Black, transgender, and homeless, shot the attacker. The voters also surprised many by dumping three school board members who fixated on renaming schools honoring such notorious “racists” as Abraham Lincoln and on eliminating merit admissions in the city’s prestigious top academic school. 

Statewide, reliably blue California now has trial mental health courts in several counties, which can order the involuntary institutionalization of those with addiction and mental health problems, something which has long been an anathema to liberals. The intractable homeless crisis and the unwillingness of many homeless to accept treatment have caused many liberals to reconsider their dogma. 

In Oregon, the Legislature reversed its disastrous brainfart legalizing hard drugs and recriminalized possession. 

In New York, Chicago, and other “sanctuary cities,” which are in crisis mode after being swamped with illegals, we are seeing a realization that perhaps an open border isn’t such a good idea. 

Nationally, we have seen an abandonment of the “defund the police” craze which had infatuated the left just a couple of years ago, replacing it with demands for additional funding for the police. With the war in Ukraine, we have also seen the instinctively pacifistic left come to an improbable recognition of the need for a strong military to repel aggressive tyrants. 

The common element here is, of course, the return to pragmatic, clear-eyed, and effective conservative policies, after having “tried everything else.” Human history is a pattern of having to relearn the same hard lessons again and again, after trying out various more attractive alternatives that ultimately proved unworkable. Many of the unsuccessful approaches were more fun, kinder, or less demanding, or promised to create a utopian world, making them seem more appealing. But there is a big difference between what people want to do, and what they need to do.

Instead of reacting with your usual derisive hoots, jeers, and epithets, you could have saved a lot of damage, money, and lives if you had just listened to conservatives in the first place, instead of instinctively rejecting conservative counsel, engaging in wishful thinking, and charging off on your latest big new thing.

John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach whose guilty pleasure is smugly saying “I told you so.” Respond with an opinion piece by emailing it to [email protected].

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