San Francisco is notorious for being one of the most liberal cities in the United States.
So, when the “City by the Bay” recalled three of the seven members of its school board for being too “woke,” ripples spread across the nation. The recall election only focused on three members because the other four had been elected too recently to be recalled.
An Electoral Upset
The results were stunning. A remarkable 79% voted to oust Board President Alison Collins, 75% wanted to recall Gabriela López, and 72% opted to remove Faauuga Moliga. Such lopsided results are rare in American politics on any level. It was all that the recall advocates could have asked.
The headline from a Washington Examiner article succinctly declared that the “San Francisco School Board Election Pits Liberals vs. Far Left.”
Multiple Issues Creates a Perfect Storm
San Franciscans faced a “perfect storm” of educational controversies that have piled up. The long-standing dispute over California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum is still unsettled. Proposals to remove “School Resource Officers” raise concerns in a city where homelessness is rife. Some parents worry about boys joining the girls’ soccer team—even in San Francisco.
More immediate issues consumed press attention. Critical Race Theory advocates demanded renaming forty-four schools because their existing honorees “significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The board eventually put the unpopular plan on hold, but many community members were incensed nonetheless. Meanwhile, there was no real plan to reopen schools after COVID. Others complained about the board’s decision to change the elite Lowell High School’s admissions policy from examinations to a more “equitable and accessible” lottery system.
Given the minefield of issues, the silence from national political figures on the left is understandable. Liberals and leftists, who recently appeared so united, are scrambling now.
A Confused Set of Reactions
Local officials did not have the luxury of silence. The very liberal Mayor London Breed pontificated, “It’s time we refocus our efforts on the basics of providing quality education for all students.” Local State Senator Scott Weiner opined, “Today San Franciscans made a clear statement: We need a Board of Education focused like a laser on stabilizing our schools, keeping them open, and supporting students and families in the most effective possible way.
Some local academics indulged in wishful thinking. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Associate Professor Jason McDaniel of San Francisco State University. “[The election] was about a series of incompetent decisions that were not well handled, and they built one upon the other. It’s about the competence and quality of the governance—not a sweeping rejection of progressive politics.” The Mercury News referred to Politics Professor James Taylor of the University of San Francisco, who posited, “This is petty politics backed by political opportunism.” He argued that in non-pandemic times, “you could have the renaming and there wouldn’t be such a reaction.”
Anguish Amongst the Press
The most agonized responses came from the liberal press. Ja’han Jones of MSNBC made veiled references to dark forces in politics. “Whatever rationale you use to justify their recall, the San Franciscans who voted to remove the three members signaled their power in setting the board’s priorities, and established consequences for those who don’t fall in line.”
Nicole Hemmer at CNN was more specific. “In San Francisco, deep-pocketed, right-leaning donors shoveled money into the recall, while activists and media outlets began using language that lashed together the disparate dissatisfactions into a coherent message…. [T]he right successfully framed school politics as concerned parents having their rights infringed by politicians, bureaucrats and judges…. In places like Loudoun County [Virginia] and San Francisco, conservative activists are attempting to do the same today, refashioning a suite of school discontents into a wave of Republican victories.”
The venerable journal, The New Republic, asked hopefully, “Can Democrats Convince Struggling Parents That the Party Hasn’t Abandoned Them?” It quoted Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union and a Massachusetts Democratic State Committee member. “[Parents are] increasingly anxious about their economic stability in this moment, they’re very afraid about whether or not their kids are going to be deeply harmed by not having access to adequate education and whether or not we’re doing enough to help them in this moment. I think that we’re at a point of frustration, where we’re seeing that the only way we’re going to be listened to is at the ballot box.”
Jubilation on the Right
Naturally, Republicans are elated. Sensing electoral success in November, the House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s response was typical. “Parents are standing up to have their voices heard…. Over the past two years they have watched liberal school boards in their communities prioritize renaming schools over reopening classrooms…. School boards have used ‘equity’ and ‘social justice’ as an excuse to discriminate and lower standards for children. This is exactly what the San Francisco School Board did and why three of their members were recalled in a landslide.”
Leader McCarthy’s jubilation is enticing. This election is the most explicit rejection that the left has suffered in decades, all the more so because it was handed to them by an ultra-liberal constituency. Indeed, this is a promising omen of the coming elections in November.
However, in such times, steady heads need to maintain vigilance. The left is quite adept at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
That begs the question, what lessons should sober people draw from the San Francisco election?
Is There a Legacy?
The most obvious lesson is that the left is not as united as they appear.
Second, Liberals become far more careful when their children are at stake. Their ideas about inner-city schools never determined their expectations of the schools to which they send their own children.
A close corollary to the second lesson is that common ground exists for parents on opposite sides of the usual political boundaries. Even though most liberals swear allegiance to Critical Race Theory and the so-called rights of birth sex denying “transsexuals,” there are few polls that break out liberals with school-age children from the more general leftist herd.
Another critical point is that local efforts can yield national results. Even though some of the specific issues in the San Francisco recall election were limited to the Bay Area, this election has obvious national implications.
The Bounds of Temporal Reason
However, with all of the good news, the true traditionalist Christian must bear another set of facts in mind.
No school system can save our children. Even under the best circumstances, parents must exercise their essential role in the lives and rearing of their children.
Likewise, it is folly to place too much trust in any political system. Political coalitions are notoriously fragile.
One crucial point remains after all else is gone—the absolute truth that God alone suffices. Eventually, any movement must make difficult choices between expediency and principle. All too often, expedient acts lead to perdition just as efficiently as misplaced principles.
Of course, all can take comfort in the absolute assurance that Our Lord and Our Lady ultimately prevail.
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