The Return of the Phrase: “San Francisco Democrats”?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Will the phrase “San Francisco Democrats” be revived nationally in the 2020 presidential contest? Opponents of Kamala Harris very well could test that idea. As in 1984 when the phrase was first coined, it would be an attempt to exploit the divide in the Democratic Party.

A little history. The term “San Francisco Democrats” came to the fore during the 1984 presidential race between incumbent Republican Ronald Reagan and his challenger, former vice-president Walter Mondale. The Democratic nominating convention was held in San Francisco that year. Soon after, the Republicans held their convention and the keynote speaker was Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations and a Democrat.

While Kirkpatrick’s use of the term “San Francisco Democrats” was used as a pejorative to admonish the Democrats moving away from a harder line in foreign policy, it was also aimed at what became known as Reagan Democrats who sided with the president on many issues as the Democratic Party moved left.

Just as the Democratic Party is doing today.

The phrase, or something like it, may evolve in this coming election to divide the centrist Democrats from the supporters of democratic socialists. But the term San Francisco Democrat could well be reserved as a attack device against Senator Harris as a top tier candidate.

While the romantic vision of the city by the bay is of little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, when addressing voters in other states, Harris’s opponents in the primary or particularly in a general election might well use stark realities about life in San Francisco to attack very progressive policies. While Harris wasn’t the city’s mayor, she would be identified with the city’s politics.

Despite the city’s obvious wealth derived in good part from the high tech world, there are many stories about city life that tie directly to the city’s leftward politics:

  • More drug addicts (24,000) than high school students (16,000).
  • In one month alone in 2017 over 6000 needles collected after reports from concerned citizens
  • Approving plastic needles for drug addicts but banning plastic straws
  • Crime in the form of around 85 vehicle break-ins a day and television news crews requiring security guards to travel with them for protection
  • Homelessness. By one estimate 160 homeless people per square mile
  • Thousands of requests to clean up the medieval scourge of human feces on city streets.
  • Businesses adding an extra cost line to their customer bills for the many fees mandated by the city.

Admittedly, criticisms such as these have not hurt San Francisco politicians who vie for statewide office.  Governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, US Senator Kamala Harris, Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer Fiona Ma have all been successful in running statewide.

But the story might be different when the example of San Francisco and the outcomes of some of the city’s policies are used in a national campaign when addressing voters in other states or voters who have concerns about progressive policy.

Then the term, “San Francisco Democrats” may make a comeback.

Comment on this article

Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.