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Top 10 Moments from the 643rd GOP Pres Debate

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Tireless in our unstinting efforts to advance the cause of democracy, Calbuzz sat through the entire two hours of last night’s Charlie Rose-moderated Republican presidential roundtable debate — thereby doubling the size of the TV audience that saw the damn thing.

For reasons that remain elusive, the Washington Post partnered with Bloomberg TV to produce the event at Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, which meant, among other things, that anyone who subscribes to Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, could only see it via the WashPost’s webcast.

Which is too bad, because it was a pretty entertaining night.

The winners: 1) Mitt Romney, who yet again outclassed the field, although he blundered by speaking in support of the Wall Street bailout while trashing the one for the auto companies (hello, Michigan!); 2) Herb Herman Cain, because his now-famous “9-9-9 plan” was the focus of roughly, oh say, 86.7 percent of the debate, although his once friendly and funny manner seems recently to have veered seriously into arrogant self-regard territory; 3) Newt Gingrich, who had some great moments in the first and last half hours, but appeared to have gone out for a ham sandwich in between; 4) President Obama, who looks like George Washington compared to most of this crowd.

The losers: 1) Ron Paul’s warmly familiar presentation on the gold standard was visually disrupted by a fake eyebrow that someone applied crookedly onto his face; 2) Rick Santorum suffered anew from the fact that no one in America can help themselves from thinking about what the Google search of his name shows, the instant he opens his mouth; 3) Michele Bachmann finally descended into full SNL parody mode, complete with a new Sarah Palin ‘do; 4) Jon Huntsman once more seemed pretty stoned, and well pleased with himself for getting off a series of zingers that no one else in the hall realized were jokes.

Biggest loser: Rick Perry, who’s about one step away from looking like armadillo road kill out on US 277.


Let’s go to the tape for the 10 best moments:

Michele Bachmann accuses Herman Cain of being a spawn of Satan. The candidates, joined by the fabulous Bloomberg reporter Julianna Goldman, took turns demolishing Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, employing the thoroughly unfair tactic of citing Actual Facts.  Herb brazened it out, however, even when Huntsman snarked that he thought 9-9-9 was a “pizza price.” But Cain simply had no answer for Bachmann, who went all Book of Revelation on him by saying, “when you take the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down, the devil is in the details.” Yes, she actually said that.

Ronald Reagan calls for taxing the rich. Charlie Rose did a funny by playing an old speech tape of President Reagan saying that taxes should be raised on the wealthy because they don’t pay “their fair share.” But he screwed up by making only Perry respond to the clip, with Ranger Rick mumbling something about Reagan having lived a long time ago. The Gipper would stand zero chance of getting nominated by this electorate of Tea Party thugs.

Julianna Goldman tears Mitt Romney’s face off: The only one to lay a glove on Romney was the aforementioned Ms. Goldman, who asked His Mittness to explain what he would do as president to avert a world economic disaster if Greece defaults on its debt. Romney tried to shine her on with a pat on the head and a now, now, little girl, I don’t answer “hypotheticals,” but she quickly, um, bitch slapped him by noting that Greece is, you know, actually on the precipice of default, which he’d know if he ever tuned into Bloomberg TV, making him look like an utter fool.

The 12th time Rick Perry used the phrase “treasure trove.” The good news for Perry was that this time out, he didn’t tire and fade in the last half of the debate; the bad news was that he tired and faded from the start of the debate. The only thing he had to contribute to the group discussion was a couple of brief talking points about his alleged new jobs plan, which he said he’s not ready to reveal yet, but might be ready to in “the next three days,” which plan appears to be aimed at poking a whole bunch of new holes in the ground and in the ocean to retrieve what Perry kept calling the “treasure trove” of oil and natural gas Obama isn’t man enough to go after.

Newt Gingrich demands Barney Frank be sent to Stony Lonesome.  The WashPost’s Karen Tumulty asked Bachmann why not a single Wall Street scumbag is in jail for tanking the nation’s economy, to which Ms. Needs An Exorcist responded that the financial meltdown was “all the federal government’s fault.” At which point Newt, who spent much of the evening smirking and leaning back in his chair with his hands crossed on his ample belly, bestirred himself to defend Bachmann’s honor by saying that the only ones who should be thrown in jail are Congressman Barney Frank and former Senator Chris Dodd, whose over-regulation of the financial system caused the whole thing. Yes, he actually said that.

Ron Paul buries Keynes and Greenspan. It’s a good thing we’ve heard Paul’s schtick before, because it was extremely distracting to watch the fake thick brown eyebrow dangling at a 45-degree angle off his real, right left eyebrow (the left right one appeared to be firmly affixed in place). The only things that we clearly caught were his riff about the genius of Austrian economist Frederich Hayek compared to the failed ideas of John Maynard Keynes (yeah, why would we want to pump more money into a depressed economy, ferhevvinsakes?) and his opening of a large can of wuppass on Cain, who had just said he would want someone like Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chief. “Alan Greenspan was a disaster,” hooted Paul, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night.

Ron Paul tells the truth. At one point, Paul pointed out that everyone else at the table was a major league panderer for trying to claim that everything wrong with the economy was Obama’s fault: “To say this is all in the last two years is misleading, and that’s why people” are so turned off by politics, he said. At which point, everyone acted like he’d just cut a fart, and Charley moved with dispatch on to the next question.

Rick Santorum blames single moms for the recession. The economy, and only the economy, was supposed to be the sole and exclusive topic of the debate, but a few minutes before it ended, Santorum (ee-yew!) could no longer contain his witch-burning alter ego, which had been bottled up all night, and started ranting that all of the nation’s financial woes can be traced to the “breakdown of the family” because apparently only single parent families are hurting financially while Mom and Dad Cleaver are doing just ducky.

Jon Huntsman plays the Mormon card. Because everyone had agreed that they wouldn’t talk about anything but economic issues, nobody could ask Romney what he thought about Perry’s evangelical minister pal trashing Mormonism as a “cult” and suggesting that Big Mitt doesn’t really believe in Jesus, which, of course, is the one thing Calbuzz really, really wanted to see. So class clown Huntsman decided to try to sneak it in the backdoor when his turn came to ask Romney a question, saying that because it was a debate about economics, “this won’t be about religion, Mitt,” then doing a little heh-heh kind of thing before looking mischievously at Perry (we’re not completely certain but he may actually have winked) to add, “sorry about that, Rick.” At which point, once again, nobody had the slightest idea what the hell Huntsman was talking about.

The pre-and post-game show. To our great surprise, Bloomberg did a terrific job with the production, apparently making an early move to play a serious role in the coverage of the 2012 election.

Network anchors Margaret Brennan and Tom Keene did a first-rate job of advancing and dissecting the debate (despite Keene’s incessant whining about being cold on their outdoor set; Yo, Tom! Next time bring a coat – it’s autumn in New England, dude), along with the color commentary of the smart and insightful political consultant Matthew Dowd; Goldman was by far the biggest star of the show, and Bloomberg put together a 40-person fact-checking team (!) from their newsroom and the Post that started calling the candidates on their lies moments after the debate ended, with a post called “Republican Candidates Stretch Truth in Debate Salvos.” Great stuff.


Press Clips: A Consumer Guide to the New Civil War

Friday, October 7th, 2011

On April 16, 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered a pandering speech to a Tea Party rally in Austin, where they chanted, “Secede, Secede!”

A few minutes later, he told an AP reporter of his belief that Texas could leave the union if its discontent with the federal government grows too great:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

The next day, the hometown Austin American-Statesman asked the governor’s press office to clarify his remarks, and reported that, “a Perry spokeswoman said Perry believes Texas could secede if it wanted. “

Now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry not surprisingly tries to distance himself from his words, and from assertions by Democrats that he actually proposed secession (either at the Tea Party rally or in an earlier, videotaped interview, in which he insists he was “joking”).

As a political matter, a precise Clintonian parsing of his comments may let him off the hook. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes about how far right the nation’s political debate has moved that a major politician who at least strongly suggested his state might secede from the union is now taken seriously as a presidential candidate; one can imagine what Fox News would say if Jerry Brown or another blue state governor raised the same issue and argument.

Confederacy of the spirit: What’s equally intriguing is that the politics of Perry, along with Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and other right-wing evangelicals, already represent a form of “spiritual secession,” a term coined by the historian Theo Anderson in a terrific piece posted at “In These Times,”  titled “New Confederacy Rising.” 

This week’s winner of the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry, Anderson’s must-read piece begins with about five grafs of needless throat-clearing, as befits an academic who couldn’t cut it in journalism (his “In These Times” bio tag reports that Anderson is a “former editorial intern”) but then quickly picks up steam to provide a perceptual scoop of considerable insight.

Terming the modern Republican Party “a new Confederacy,” he traces the outsize influence of the religious right on the GOP to “premillennial dispensationalism,” a theological narrative popularized in the early 20th century by Congregationalist minister Cyrus Scofield, as a reaction to the progressive transformation of elite universities  from traditional, Bible-based studies of morality into institutions based upon scientific inquiry and research.

For the pragmatic and progressive America that grew out of secularized higher education, truth has a provisional, this-worldly orientation. It’s more evolutionary than eternal in character—a fluid body of knowledge and interpretation, subject to revision and expansion.

For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a twin of biblical literalism—is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal.

Pragmatists and progressives defer to experts and professionals. They expect truth claims to be supported by evidence that emerges from research and testing. They put their faith in this process, and in the communities of inquiry—the disciplines—legitimized by secular institutions of higher education.

The new Confederacy rejects that process wholesale. Its leaders and authorities are the spiritual descendants of the conservative Christians and charismatic radio preachers who broke away from religious modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. For these leaders and their followers, faith justifies—and verifies—itself. You don’t believe an idea because it’s true. It’s true because you believe it.

Don’t confuse me with the facts: What is most interesting to us about Anderson’s piece is how it illuminates “The death of truth” and “The death of compromise,” two unhappy developments in the political process about which we have reported and written extensively, in an effort to understand and explain the ideological intransigence of many Republicans, from Sacramento to Washington, in the face of overwhelming fact-based argument and evidence:

This is why, in the “real America” of Bachmann, Palin and Perry, it is self-evident that cutting taxes increases revenues; the founders were evangelical Christians; evolution is bunk; climate change is a hoax; the United States has the best healthcare system in the world; we can transform the Middle East into a garden of democracy; Kenya native Barack Obama has slashed the military budget; the war on drugs is worth the cost; and so on. These are all leaps of faith. The new Confederates flat-out reject or ignore any counter-evidence, because they have their own fount of truth.

Following the “spiritual secession” train of thought to its logical conclusion, Anderson gets a trifle overwrought (“God help us, indeed”). Still, he’s right on the money in his framing of the futility of trying to govern amid obstruction of a political party afflicted with magical thinking, and often dominated by leaders who consider it as “a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper ‘United States.’”

A house divided against itself cannot stand, as Lincoln said. But what if the divisions are just too deep and wide to bridge? What if the common ground for compromise simply does not exist? What if the last best hope of earth cannot long endure, after all?

Huh. Tough question.

RIP Rollin Post

Late Thursday we learned of the death of our old friend and colleague Rollin Post, the quintessential San Francisco TV  reporter who lived and breathed politics and conveyed in his reporting a sense of enthusiasm, decency and integrity so seldom found these days in TV news.  Rollin died Monday of complications from Alzheimers disease at his home in Marin County. He was 81.  For more, see the LA Times.


What Christie’s Pass on the Presidential Race Means

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The decision by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (bats right/eats left) not  to enter the Republican presidential sweepstakes will leave unanswered some super-sized questions about national politics:

Would American taxpayers have been willing to pay for the installation of double wide seats on Air Force One? Could Christie have made working out with the knife and the fork the latest fitness craze? Would he have been the first president since William Howard Taft to get wedged in the White House bathtub?

But enough with the fat jokes: Calbuzz doesn’t have much standing to hurl outsized insults.

As the Beltway pundit class loses its latest obsession and the governor of girth returns to Trenton, onetime capital of the nation, to ponder weighty matters like a tax break for Snooki, a few blinding insights on l’affaire Christie:

1-The biggest losers in the deal are the Republican elites, from Karl Rove and Bill Kristol to Mitch Daniels and Rupert Murdoch, who saw in Christie a strong Obama challenger who could bridge the gap between Tea Party mad dogs and the GOP silk stocking establishment of big donors, policy intellectuals and Washington officeholders.

Now these would-be kingmakers once again are stuck with an unhappy choice between a nominal but weak front-runner, in the oleaginous person of Mitt Romney, who’s viewed as a retrograde RINO by the arch right-wingers who will dominate the Republican primary electorate, and his flawed chief foil, the increasingly embarrassing Rick Perry, whose rants against Social Security, Sarah Palin-style shallowness and excessive evangelicalism would be tough to translate for a general election audience of normal people.

As a practical matter, this means that you can look for establishment types to grit their teeth and start singing the praises of His Mittness, as the loathsome David Brooks did in the Times on Monday, while cajoling Tea Partiers, whose energy and enthusiasm they need to recapture the White House, with the argument that anybody’s better than Obama.

2-The biggest winner is Perry, whose recent practice of firing both barrels at his own feet have sent him plummeting in the polls, but who now has an opening to reboot and reintroduce himself to GOP voters, starting with next week’s WashPost debate in New Hampshire.

Other beneficiaries of Christie’s retreat are the hang-around half-dozen of the Republican field, going nowhere candidates who all will doubtless see a fresh chance to step over Perry and take on the role of chief rival to Romney.

Not Herman Cain

It’s hard to take anyone in this crowd too seriously, but it’s remotely possible, if you squint really, really hard, to see how Jon Huntsman could conceivably rise, if he can ever stop sleepwalking and telling jokes that no one understands, and how the repulsive Rick Santorum could yet become the favorite of the pitchfork crowd, based on his Medieval moral views and ability to speak in complete sentences.

Beyond that, not so much: Bachmann’s toast, as we were among the first to report, Newt is running for the exercise and Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul. The only hope for Herman Cain,  currently enjoying his 15 fame-filled minutes as flavor of the week, is that millions of Republicans remarkably join Sarah Palin in confusing him with the late great Old Chronicle three-dot columnist Herb Caen.

3-The least affected player is probably Romney. He’s likely to pick up a few bucks from some of Christie’s would-be donors, but fundamentally is neither better nor worse off than before the announcement. In for the long haul, the guy just won’t go away, reminding us of one of those grotesque beach toys that bounces right back – barrrrong – no matter how hard you punch it.

Romney’s serious problems remain the same: a) that little key sticking out of his back, with which his handlers wind him up every morning; b) his failure to go around the country in a state of constant spittle-flecked rage at anyone who disagrees with the Tea Party, a shortcoming that constantly infuriates the Tea Party; c) the social conservative base of the GOP.

There are plenty of reasons why Mittless has never been able to garner more than a quarter of the vote in polls of Republicans (the phrase “insufferable phony” comes to mind) but the biggest – and all but unspoken – factor is that he’s …shh…a Mormon, and so unacceptable to the Bachmann-Perry witch-burning crowd, which firmly believes his religion is a cult (also see Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, “A Comparison of Christianity with Major Religions and Cults” p. 296).

For all his flip-flops and hair splitting on issues from abortion to health care and taxes, Romney’s most fundamental problem with the hardcore Republican right-wing is one he can’t do much about, short of disembarking in Salt Lake City to burn his Temple garment in front of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to the accompaniment of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

P.S. Before we forget, there’s one more big winner in this deal: Chris Christie, who would have peaked the moment he announced his candidacy, after which the Republican cuckoo caucus would have turned to trashing his heretical views on climate change science and gun control, along with his  weak-kneed willingness to negotiate compromises with Democrats.

Smart move, governor.

Press Clips: What MSM are Missing in the GOP Race

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The most memorable scene in “Boys on the Bus,” the iconic 1973 portrait of life on the presidential campaign trail, comes when Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern engage in a boring debate just days before the California primary.

For political reporters, writing a debate story on deadline is perhaps the most challenging task on the beat, and author Tim Crouse spot-on captured the awful state of dread that descends when filing time is just minutes away and not a shred of real news has emerged from a confrontation in which two rivals stuck unerringly to their same old, same old talking points.

“Walter, Walter, what’s our lede?” Crouse recorded one desperate newshound yelling at the deadline-every-minute Associated Press reporter Walter Mears, whose talent for spotting a nugget of news in a field of mush was unerring.

The episode for decades has symbolized the herd mentality of the press pack, but what rarely gets noticed is that Mears’ lede – both candidates agreed they wouldn’t pick George Wallace for a vice president – was unconventional; the news of a debate is most often what the wannnbes disagree about – “Candidates Trade Jibes,” as the hoary headline cliché has it — not what they agree on.

Which brings us, by way of Hogan’s barn, to the winner of this week’s Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry, a splendid, must-read perceptual scoop by Ed Kilgore, writing in the New Republic.

The longtime centrist Democrat policy wonk finds, hiding in plain sight, the really significant lede of the recent Republican presidential debates: while the MSM has focused on issues where the GOP field has been squabbling – Candidates Trade Jibes on Papillomavirus Vaccine! – what’s far more important is their unanimous agreement on more fundamental matters:

But there are a host of other issues where the Republican candidates are in too much agreement to create a lot of controversy during debates or gin up excitement in the popular media. Areas of agreement, after all, rarely provoke shock or drive readership. But the fact that the Republican Party has reached such a stable consensus on such a great number of far-right positions is in many ways a more shocking phenomenon than the rare topic on which they disagree.

Kilgore notes five issue areas of Republican consensus which, not too long ago, would have been considered well out of the mainstream, even in the GOP:  1) the monetary system (Rein in the Fed!); 2) union-busting (Smash the NLRB – right-to-work laws now!); 3) radical anti-environmentalism (Abolish the EPA!); 4) anti-abortion extremism (Litmus tests for judges!); 5) 19th century-style capitalism (Let’s stop choking the economy with child labor laws!)

Most remarkably, the 2012 candidate field appears to agree that there is absolutely nothing the federal government can do to improve the economy—other than disabling itself as quickly as possible. Entirely missing are the kind of modest initiatives for job training, temporary income support, or fiscal relief for hard-pressed state and local governments that Republicans in the past have favored as a conservative alternative to big government counter-cyclical schemes. Also missing are any rhetorical gestures towards the public-sector role in fostering a good economic climate, whether through better schools, basic research, infrastructure projects, and other public investments (the very term has been demonized as synonymous with irresponsible spending). 

Add all this up, and it’s apparent the Republican Party has become identified with a radically conservative world-view in which environmental regulations and collective bargaining by workers have strangled the economy; deregulation, federal spending cuts, and deflation of the currency are the only immediate remedies; and the path back to national righteousness will require restoration of the kinds of mores—including criminalization of abortion—that prevailed before things started going to hell in the 1960s. That Republicans hardly even argue about such things anymore makes the party’s transformation that much more striking—if less noticeable to the news media and the population at large.

It’s been fascinating to watch how quickly right-wing Tea Party types turned on erstwhile savior Rick Perry, for uttering heresies about illegal immigration (and how swiftly he groveled for forgiveness for making sense).

At a time when Republican elites are now begging New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to enter the race and save them from Mitt Romney, it would be even more interesting to see how the politics of a Northeast industrial state pol would go over with a tar-and-feather crowd that boos gay soldiers and cheers the death of people without health insurance.

Insipid inanities or inane insipidness? You be the judge: The last time we flung a fired up fondue dish into the big screen, it was the televised image of the vile Eric Cantor that had the missus packing us off to anger management school. Now comes the sudden return of Thomas Friedman, ubiquitously driveling all over cable news as he flogs his latest self-help volume for curing the planet’s ills, that imperils our 103-inch Panasonic plasma replacement set.

So we credit Andrew Ferguson, whose Wall Street Journal review of Friedman’s latest extra-large serving of tripe raised anew the question of why anyone would interview this guy, let alone treat him as some kind of wise man (memo to Anderson Cooper: on your knees and slobbering is not your best look).

Faced with era-defining challenges,” he writes, “the country has responded with all the vigor and determination of a lollipop.” One chapter is called “Homework x 2 = The American Dream.” He advocates “empowering powerful breakthroughs” and notes that “the cloud . . . is driving the flattening further and faster.” (Pointless alliteration + runaway metaphor = Friedmanism.) Certain phrases crop up so often that they must have been rejected book titles: “Average is over” is one of the new ones, if you want to give it a try. (You’ll be hearing it on “Charlie Rose.”)

Mr. Friedman can turn a phrase into cliché faster than any Madison Avenue jingle writer. He announces that “America declared war on math and physics.” Three paragraphs later, we learn that we’re “waging war on math and physics.” Three sentences later: “We went to war against math and physics.” And onto the next page: “We need a systemic response to both our math and physics challenges, not a war on both.” Three sentences later: We must “reverse the damage we have done by making war on both math and physics,” because, we learn two sentences later, soon the war on terror “won’t seem nearly as important as the wars we waged against physics and math.” He must think we’re idiots.

Except: forming such a thought would require actual insight.

Anyway, for those, like us, seeking therapeutic treatment for Friedman rage, here’s a lovely rant from Gawker’s “Hacks” column, along with a brief excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s classic leveling of “The World is Flat.”

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

ICYMI: A guide to unnecessary journalism phrases (feel free to report any you find lurking here).

A Bid to Restore George Moscone’s Place in History

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Three decades after the horror, it’s an odd twist of history that the late Mayor George Moscone has become little more than a footnote in popular media narratives about San Francisco’s City Hall assassinations.

Dan White, the cowardly ex-supervisor and cop who shot and killed the mayor, then reloaded, walked down the hall and gunned down Harvey Milk, has been the subject of a book, a TV movie and a stage play.

Milk long ago became a global icon of the gay civil rights movement, his life and martyrdom celebrated and honored in a major film and a documentary, both of which won Oscars, along with an opera and a best-selling biography.

But Moscone, who was White’s primary target on the awful morning of November 27, 1978, is usually portrayed as a cipher or, in the case of “Milk,” the famous Sean Penn vehicle, badly misrepresented as a weak-willed hack.

Josh Getlin, who served Moscone as a young speechwriter and later moved to the L.A. Times editorial page, summed up this historic anomaly in an op-ed piece on the anniversary of the killings in 2008:

Thirty years later, Moscone remains an enigma to all but a handful of us who knew him. But this year, and every year, we mourn the loss of our friend who did so much to shape the modern face of San Francisco. And we continue to hope that history will one day give him his proper due.

Now Moscone’s friends, family, aides and colleagues are trying to make that happen, working to produce a full-length documentary focused on the life,  times and politics of the mayor. They’ve organized an event next week in San Francisco to raise money to finish the film, which has been in the works for several years.* As Corey Busch, a Bay Area business executive who served as Moscone’s press secretary, told us in email:

History can’t be allowed to forget George or what he meant to California and San Francisco. With the perspective of the past 30 plus years, he truly emerges as a unique and very significant historical figure.  We’re going to do our best to give him his due and to add to the true historical record of that time.

Moscone was not a saint. He was conned by Jim Jones, who led the Peoples Temple mass murder-suicides, just days before the City Hall assassinations, in Guyana. The mayor at times was overmatched against the power of city unions, as during a 39-day strike shortly after he took office. Willie Brown famously said of him, “George Moscone has two drinks and thinks he’s invisible.”

A blue collar guy who left a wife and four children when he died three days after his 49th birthday, however, he was a family man and a skilled and effective politician, a pragmatic liberal with a passion for social justice who helped lead California into an era of remarkable diversity and dramatic change.

Years before he was elected mayor in 1975, Moscone was a major player in Sacramento, where he served three terms in the senate.

Among other things as Majority Leader, he authored legislation (signed by then-Governor Jerry Brown) to provide school lunches for poor kids. He fought fiercely against the death penalty and, with then-Assemblyman Willie Brown, led the battle to repeal California’s anti-sodomy law, an early landmark in the campaign for gay rights.

Elected San Francisco’s 37th mayor, after one of the most raucous and bitter campaigns in the city’s history, his accomplishments ranged from the prosaic to the transformational.

He pushed through a huge bond issue to build a new sewage treatment system, at a time when the city routinely poured raw filth into the Bay, and was legally banned from new construction. He broke the generation-long political deadlock over the South of Market Yerba Buena redevelopment project, where millions today visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the convention center that bears his name. He won the lasting gratitude of Calbuzz by saving the Giants, when the team was about to leave town for Toronto.

Most importantly, Moscone gave voice to neighborhoods and working people, who had been shut out of a City Hall long dominated by big business, big labor and the big money transactional politics of his predecessor, Mayor Joe Alioto.

Moscone was the first mayor to appoint large numbers of women, minorities and gays – including Harvey Milk – to city boards and commissions, and his success in creating a municipal government that looked like the city was profound and lasting.

In an appraisal of his brief tenure as mayor, written for the 20th anniversary of the assassinations, Old Chronicler Susan Sward interviewed San Francisco State history professor Richard DeLeon, who has written extensively on the city:

DeLeon said that if he were to inscribe on some tablet what he believes the mayor left behind, he would write: “”George Moscone included the excluded.'”‘

“So many avoid conflict and nothing happens, but he was brave enough to get into it. He decided to swim upstream. He chose to make history.

“His role in local history at that moment was to play the role of political leader. At great odds, he made a valiant stab at it.”

* Former Speaker Willie Brown will host a reception to benefit the George R. Moscone Documentary Film project on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in downtown San Francisco. For more information contact Shari Rubin-Rick at 415-413-0240 (X102) or at Shari@integratedfundraising.com.