Campaign Aftermath

John's actual campaign can be found on the page Run for office and events leading up to the campaign can be found in Campaign Precursor.

Telling a better truth (RL302)

It is very easy for us to see how our political opponents are lying in a big way, not just small lies, and we can’t believe that their following will fall for their lies. What we don’t see is the very common attitude on the Left that we can not afford to give a nuanced answer, because it will confuse people. We can not afford to show the unvarnished truth, because our enemies will take what we show them and use it against us. It is very complicated to be a Leftist!

If you want to make an example about homelessness you do not just go down to a homeless camp and pick the first person you run into, but you find someone who is photogenic, like a hard-working person who lives in his car with his three kids, his wife just died, and he goes to church.

If you do say that there are a lot of people down in the homeless camp that are on drugs or committing violence, your Leftist friends will shush you because we can’t afford to talk about that. It will just give aid and comfort to our enemies! Over time you do no longer get the unvarnished truth and you will not be able to talk about reality anymore, because we are telling stories.

We do it with homeless, we do it with recycling, we do it with everything, and we don’t recognize that we are lying to ourselves and to others, but we are doing it with good intentions in order to not encourage our enemies to take our words out of context. After a while you create a situation where your enemies will know that you are clearly lying but we are so far into it that it offends us. We are not lying, but we are telling a better truth, the more truthy truth than just the regular dirty truth.

There was one turtle in the world that ever got a straw up its nose, but that was the story! At Merlin’s house it is a very simple thing: He got three cans and one is for compost. He does believe the compost helps and when he rolls 40/80/100 pounds of compost out to the curb, it does make a difference. It also opens up space in the other cans. Most things are not surpassingly difficult to do, like putting your toilet paper tube into the recycling, and you can feel good about yourself and you get to look down on people who don’t do it. We have to change so much shit on a much higher level and maybe that whole straw issue is a straw man?

When you dig beyond the surface issues of the one axis of something that you understand, there is almost always something way more complicated under the surface that is not as obvious. That is where you get into the double, triple or quadruple turns-out and you get to these layers of: "Yeah, but this… Yeah, but that…", and then you get into a deeper systemic level and see huge differences. Maybe the people in Seattle just don’t want noisy street cars riding around or maybe they think they are ugly and for poor people, but they can’t say that?

Campaigning for transportation even though that is not the top issue (RL302)

There are a lot of smart people in politics and they are all practicing a version of: ”You got to lie in order to tell the truth!” You cannot tell the truth to people because that will not get you elected. Instead, you need to bold-face lie every minute of every day. The number one lie is: ”I will address your concern directly when I get to office!” because every single person who comes up to you wants to passionately talk about their tiny little obsession and they won’t take any answer other than that you care about this issue as well, and as soon as you get to Washington you will make this your personal mission.

Every politician says that to every single person all day long and they don’t even roll their eyes at it. The really virtuous ones say: ”Well, that is a very complicated issue. I have people looking into it and as soon as we get to Washington we are really going to take a hard look at that!” without really promising anything.

The world of Turns Out becomes a battle of Turns Outs. Turns out, over the lifetime of a street car system it is much less expensive than busses. The other side will say that as it turns out, ridership declines during rainstorms, but, turns out, new streetcar stops become urban hubs where new buildings go in with coffee shops and dog grooming services that won’t happen around bus routes because people feel busses are impermanent. You won’t ever see that it is possible if it has never happened before.

They changed a lot of things with Merlin’s streetcar line last year. They wanted to reduce the number of stops because right now it is almost every other street and that is too many stops, even accounting for folks with disabilities. Every other street in Merlin’s far-flung neighborhood is a little bit crazy. The nuttiest change was that they took out the stop right next to Safeway and people flipped. Of all the ones they could take out? People actually did use that one and they put it back in.

John talked about this on the campaign trail all the time: Where do people drive with their car? To the grocery store, the doctor and to work. You put the grocery store and the doctor in people’s neighborhood and build little communities instead of consolidating everything in giant commerce parks. Then you distribute people’s work environments the same way, if you can.

There was a fellow city council candidate, a younger, pretty dynamic guy with an ear ring, who had been in politics since he was a young Democrat in High School. Everybody knew him, he was really in the game and he gave the impression of someone who is going to have a lifetime in politics, whether he is elected to office or not.

Towards the end of the campaign, right before the primary election that John lost, they were talking and this guy told John that no-one had really heard of John in politics when he joined this race and this whole thing about the streetcars was just dumb because nobody was going to vote for John because of that!

John replied that it didn’t matter if anybody was going to vote for him because of it, but it needs to happen! The guy and three other candidates were like: ”Oh, boy!” They really did roll their eyes right in John’s face because he said it didn't matter whether people voted for him about it or not. John was talking about something that fell far outside the circle of issues of the moment and when you are running for office you need to really address the fashionable issues.

They were all grateful that they didn’t have to talk about transit because that was 4th down on the list, but John was out there, saying: ”You know what would help?” and that was dumb because he should have been talking about big developers ruining the lives of innocent mothers, but there were already a lot of hot takes on that and John really didn’t feel like he needed to add one and that made him seem like he wasn’t up on the issues. At least he will know better next time when he will run for sheriff of Twisp (Reference to episode RL28), he will walk right in there and ask: ”What do you guys care about?” - "Dingleberries!"

People who make a life out of local politics (RL302)

There are people who make a life out of focusing on local politics, which is a weird self-selection, because you would have to be kind of crazy to make local politics your form of civic engagement and entertainment. What are we going to do tonight? We could go to the movies or we could go down to the High School where a bunch of candidates are answering questions. Who wants to do that? Some people do! Some of them show up for every one of those events and they wear their signature hat with buttons on it.

When you first arrive on the scene as a candidate, you think that these people are the kooks and you are trying to get to the real voters instead, but what you learn over time is that these kooks actually have a crude power, because they will get themselves elected as the legislative district 43 campaign organizer and then that person decides where the event is and who is going to be there. Over the course of the years this evolves from a very small group and becomes the Democratic party.

It grows and grows, and whoever shows up for these meetings is going to have an outsized influence. They are the party, they decide where the money goes and other things. As they get more sophisticated, they will try to address their little thing about: ”Why are all my electrical outlets in my house upside down?” - ”That is not really a city thing!” - ”What do you mean not a city thing? Stop avoiding the question!”

Sidewalks in Lake City (RL302)

The biggest issue for people in the North East part of Seattle is that they didn’t have sidewalks in their neighborhood. When Lake City was annexed to Seattle in 1952 they lost their autonomy and became part of Seattle, but part of the annexation agreement was that in return they would get city services and sidewalks would get put in. This is a Korean War era agreement that still hasn’t been fulfilled. There are some sidewalks up there, but it is a very difficult neighborhood with a lot of steep hills and a lot of people who feel a lot of resentment.

Every time they look out their window and see somebody struggling up the hill with their grocery bag, they note that down in their spiral-bound notebook of people inconvenienced by lack of sidewalk, and every time a kid falls down, every time a dog gets hit by a car, that is another crime that the city of Seattle has created by virtue of not fulfilling their promise to put those sidewalks in. If there were sidewalks in Lake City, no dogs would ever be killed by cars, and although that is not true, there hasn’t been a dog killed by a car that wasn’t a result of the lack of sidewalks.

Those people are not crazy. They understand that it is a relatively small thing, but what they want you to understand is the trail of tears, the fucking carnage that has resulted and what a simple ask it is. It is not even an ask, because they were promised! You look at them and you say that you are just the latest guy to run for city council and what little you know about the budget is that there are not $250 million to put sidewalks in Lake City. There is not even $1 million to fund a study about how there is no chance of getting a sidewalk.

Local government not being able to enforce everything (RL302)

Dog-pooping on sidewalks and people not cleaning up after their dogs is something that should be community-enforced. We all know not to do it and every once in a while somebody gets away with it. You can't have a cop on every street corner with an active fire hose and the discretion to hit anybody they want with it, but then tell them to only hit dogs that are pooping on the sidewalks.

When John was talking to his neighbors across the street about their barking dog, he got the age-old: ”Well that is what dogs do! They bark all night!” right away as the first words out of their mouth. The dog-poop people say the same thing: ”That’s what dogs do: They poop. Everybody poops! It’s right there in the book!”

No town-hall in the world can hold everybody’s hand and walk them through whatever the logical steps are to get them to the next place, which is: ”What if every dog pooped on the sidewalk? It would be like Paris and we would be walking though knee-deep poop!” - ”Nah, man!” - "What if I pooped on the sidewalk?" - "Don’t do that!" How can you let those people know that right now there is less than no plan for this? There is the opposite of a plan for this and we don’t really have any way to change it.

One problem of civilization is that half of the people think that the architecture of civilization is oppressive. There are too many rules and the Jack-booted feds are waiting to take your land and your guns and your cigarettes. What they don’t see is all the daily shit that government does for them. They take it for granted and they think that the water just comes out of the pipe and is mostly not deadly because of God.

When they go down and file a claim, they are very into their property lines and they don’t think about the fact that they don’t have to be out there defending their property lines against their neighbor every day, because the government enforces their property line. If somebody decided to build a shed over onto their property, they would immediately go to whatever government agency it is that takes care of that.

There is an apparatus in place for dealing with stuff like that on a scale. The people who are against the government, zoning and property rights in general just don’t reflect enough to see that they are benefiting from that system and they don’t add their benefit into their calculation of how much it costs them to be ruled over by this government.

The other problem is all the other people who think that government is magic and that government should be doing something! What they don’t understand is the problem of enforcement. You can make as many laws as you want, but there is no army of zoning cops who walk around every day with a baton, brushing people’s kids back over their property line into their yard, because the community itself enforces its own understanding. That is why we built fences!

People wonder why the government doesn’t protect beautiful Victorian houses from getting torn down. Do you want to prohibit people from buying property unless they can prove they are going to do something you approve of with that property? Do you hire a team of 600 college students to walk around and catalog every single beautiful home in San Francisco? They can’t just be college students, but they have to know the difference between a shitty home that has been painted pink and a beautiful home that has fallen into disrepair and looks like shit. Then they would have to be making pretty sophisticated calls about every single house on the block. You look at that house across the street every day, you know what it is, but somebody coming along with a clipboard doing a survey?

In San Francisco the last thing you want is somebody saying that your house is historic, because that makes it way harder to do practically anything with it. It has been used by people as a punitive thing, and one way to screw with your political enemies is to have their private property declared important. There is a longstanding feud in Merlin’s neighborhood between this guy and this woman in some level of government. When he was in the middle of a remodel she had his house declared important. It is pretty good! She is the worst!

San Francisco's homeless problem (RL302)

Right now the hot topics in Merlin's neighborhood are a guy in his 40s who revs his motorcycle who everybody is mad about and lots of package theft. There is the prevailing feeling that there is something that can and should be done about all these things that are trivially easy for somebody to do if they would just do their job, sir! If they would just run down every one of these leads! Merlin does believe that San Francisco has gone off the fucking charts on car break-ins, that there are package thieves and that this is all true.

Merlin mentions a headline from Business Insider saying: ”People are being paid more than $70.000 a year to clean poop off the streets of San Francisco”, a hilarious San Francisco story! Can you even believe that they have gotten to the point now where this dingeling city can’t get people to stop pooping on the streets, they have to hire people to clean up after them, and people envy them for their salary? Turns out: Do you think people are pooping on the streets because they are super into pooping on the streets? They don’t! They poop on the streets because they don’t have a bathroom! Why don’t they have a bathroom? Starbucks is not in the business of being a public restroom and shower. If there is not a sustainable amount of public restrooms for people who need to poop, they will go to the park, or they will do whatever, but what do you do? They don’t have a bathroom because they don’t have a place to live because they have been priced out of the market.

A lot of these issues eventually end up back at income inequality and an unaffordable town that is run by tech companies. No matter how you chose to frame the problem and talk about what the solutions are, it is just pissing in the ocean. It is terrible we have to do that, and it is hilarious when your friends pass around the places in San Francisco where the poop has been counted. It is really a huge serious problem and there is no magic wand for it or else it would already have been done.

One of the great Turns Outs is to spend less money on homelessness and homeless people by giving them a fucking free place to live. Nobody wants to do that because it is not in the budget and if you get to any of this stuff, you assume stupidity and bad faith of everybody who doesn’t see it the way that you do. Maybe Merlin is doing that, too.

Who wants to be the one to show up at the meeting and say that based on the budget we got, this is a problem that we can not solve and can barely afford to even talk about. We are going to need something much bigger than hiring people to pick up poop if we want to solve the actual problem behind this problem. It is a Turns Out that is going to require something much deeper and it is deeply embarrassing that the city still has not figured out a way to address this problem. Whatever they tried hasn’t worked! It is the government-is-magic-problem: A lot of those issues are not even under anybody’s original definition of what government does.

What do you want a government to do? What can a government do? Anybody who is older than 28 knows that San Francisco had poop on the streets a long time before tech was even a thing. In 1986 The Mission Below and the South End Market before it became the Moscone Center was a pretty dangerous place to go. When John was there for the first time in 1986, it was like Escape from New York (the movie) just on the other side of the street.

There is a nexus of activity at places that involve lots of local people and tourists, like the cable car turn-around right next to Pal Street station, only a few blocks away from Civic Center station. People from all over the world come to San Francisco because and it is such a great place and they will come to the cable car turn-around.

But as soon as you start walking West of there, your mind is going to be blown within only one block. You go two blocks away and get closer to Civic Center station, it is basically a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. It is fucked up and there are people camping on the grass outside City Hall. It is really dark and that has been the case for a really long time.

San Francisco was one of the pioneer cities of Libertarian Liberalism, which is: ”We are not going to pay for a bunch of cops to break people’s heads, we are not going to move panhandlers along, because we are compassionate and we are not going to be draconian in terms of enforcement of civic law!”

In the mid-1990s, a city attorney in Seattle passed a law prohibiting sitting on the sidewalk. It was a civic attempt to deal with this epidemic of people sitting on the sidewalk. The people who were against it argued that you can’t outlaw sitting, but people were blocking the road, causing public nuisance and there was a health issue.

In reality they were empowering police officers to make ad-hoc decisions as they are walking down the street. If two people in pin-striped suits are sitting on the sidewalk counting $100 bills, the cops are not going to say that it is against the law, and if you happen to be standing there with a cup that says ”Please help”, they are not going to tip their hat at you, saying: ”Good day! Thank you for not sitting!”, but they are going to move you along under that law.

The myth of Reagan emptying mental health asylums (RL302)

The city of San Francisco made a real point of being compassionate. The conventional wisdom was that when their former governor Reagan became president in the early 1980s, a lot of people were pushed out of mental health facilities that used to exist in the State of California. He cleaned everybody out of these institutions where people were getting some kind of De-Minimis Care for mental health issues and the question was: "Where are they going to go?" The climate and the attitude of the city made it a destination for people, which is where it really became a problem.

John heard from a listener that it turns out that the United States had been emptying the asylums for decades! It had been a project that began in the late 1950s, early 1960s and during that whole period they were taking away that aspect of involuntary incarceration, those big infirmaries we called insane asylums, the Nurse Ratched style. We have been shutting those down and we have not seen any increase in homelessness or street crime.

That increase started during the Regan administration, but it was the defunding of the housing and urban development department. Reagan took all this money away from HUD, the organization that was providing rent assistance and public housing, an invention of the 20th century that had taken the place of what had formerly been an incredible constellation of Catholic human services and local this and local that. HUD consolidated it, we came to depend on it and then Reagan defunded it and all these services went away all at once. It wasn’t the asylums, John had said that for years! Since that time no politician has successfully refunded it.

The practical limitations of government (RL302)

One of the most profound lessons John learned when running for office was what the practical limitations of government are. Often it comes down to: "How to enforce that?", not just knocking on people’s door and saying: ”You can't do this!”, but then what happens? People don’t want to go two or three ”And then what happens?” into their cockamamy idea.

John was reading a website on what to do if your neighbor has a dog that barks all night and with each sentence they were trying to answer all those Nextdoor people. First we would like you to document every incident in a journal that you are keeping on your hatred for your neighbors. They want to give people some difficult busy work and maybe 10% of the people will resign themselves to the dog because they don’t want to keep a journal. After you kept a journal for 60 days, at any point of which you could just give up, it is always better to talk to your neighbor in person rather than write them a letter, at which point 30% of the people don’t want to go over there and talk to them.

When you go down this list of what the city asks you to do to make this complaint, every step in the way is an attempt to make you resign to the problem. The end-result would be that 2 people from the city knock on the door and say that they had a complaint about the dog and the person will say: ”That is just what dogs do!” - ”Yeah, we know, but there has been a complaint. You have 90 days to rectify the situation or we will come back out and have this conversation again!”

They are not sitting there, reading your Nextdoor! They are not going to come with two crack agents and park across the street from this place at 3am to make sure that the dog is barking. The city itself knows that they can’t deal with this because there are just too many of these. There is a guy at the other side of town who is running a generator all night and these guys have loud music playing and these guys have no soup.

Running for office taught John that you have to ”Turns out” yourself every day and you have to reject the obvious thing that makes sense to you in favor of new information, trying to ask: ”And then what happens?” In the case of barking dogs, you end up realizing that this is not a job for the government. The government has a webpage which makes it seem that they are acknowledging their job because they had to and because people were calling 911, but the whole job of that webpage is to divert you and get you away. The people who follow the steps all the way through are the insane people. They are mad!

If our cops were actually empowered to keep your neighbor's dog from barking, they would have too much power. You would have cops knocking on people’s doors all the time, there would be a lot more cops, and you would be empowering and funding them to be doing things that you didn’t even want. You just wanted them to make dogs stop barking!

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