One of the causes that has brought the great and worthy movement of liberalism to its present state of decrepitude has been remarked upon in this column many times before: Liberalism always goes too far. Even in the case of a noble impulse, it goes too far. Public events in recent days in that magnificent monument to liberalism, San Francisco, show us once again the example of liberalism over the edge.
To review my thesis that liberalism goes too far: It started with the working man trying to organize a union in the 1930s. It ended with the unions barring everyone save a particular type of man from the union shop. In the 1950s, about a decade before the liberal crackup got going, it barred women from the union; and of course, it barred blacks and Latinos. Moreover, no one who was nonunion could still work in the union shop. Liberalism always goes too far.
Bring liberalism up into modern times. It talked of peace in Vietnam and negotiating an end to the war in Vietnam. But not long after negotiations got started, liberalism was against all use of force in the world, notwithstanding how threatening the Soviet Union (then our enemy) might be. In time, liberalism was calling for disarmament and turning the Pentagon into a peace museum, or perhaps a place for the homeless.
Take poverty. Liberalism favored all manner of methods to alleviate the plight of the poor. Presidential candidate George McGovern called for a government stipend for everyone (and practical expropriation of us all upon our death). More reasonably, liberalism favored the perfectly sensible “safety net” for the least of our brothers and sisters. Yet, of a sudden, it was calling for redistribution of the wealth. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, of blessed memory, favored the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration, all requiring the disadvantaged to work for their government check. By the 1970s, work was not a requirement for public largesse, and many of the poor lived the life of a comfortable retiree from the local bank. They developed suntans and some a tolerably good golf game. The more farsighted took their welfare checks and dabbled in the stock market.
One sees this proclivity for taking a good cause too far all the time. Do liberals call for tolerance of homosexuality? In only a matter of time, they are calling for homosexual marriage - not civil union; marriage. They are for tolerance for nudity at the beach, then nudity in public restaurants, even at fashion shows, even in churches and synagogues.
Which brings me to the crucial public events in San Francisco last weekend. There a city supervisor, infelicitously named Scott Wiener, has introduced a law calling for the prohibition of nudity in San Francisco’s great restaurants - family restaurants and otherwise - and requiring that naked buttocks placed on park benches or other public seats be swaddled in a towel or newspaper or other ameliorative materials. Needless to say, San Francisco, when faced with the nudist craze then sweeping progressive towns such as Berkeley and San Jose, adopted legalized public nudity wholeheartedly and put no limits on it. In fact, I would think reactionaries in a coat and tie or a chaste dress might be in danger of being proscribed in San Francisco.
Still, city supervisor Wiener sought limits, and he sought them on the nudists - mainly dumpy, bald men, all fat and some with hairy backs, if the photographs I saw of last weekend’s momentous protests were accurate. There were no statuesque supermodels demonstrating against his legislation in San Francisco. One gentleman said he already wraps himself in a towel when he enters a restaurant or sits on a bench. “This is about body acceptance, not politics,” said the “nude-in’s” leader, Mitch Hightower, who runs a pornographic website.
What have these moribund liberals created? If I follow the news reports, it is the unprecedented prospect of thought police. The law that allows nudity everywhere in San Francisco asserts that nudity is illegal only when it inspires “lewd thoughts or acts” or “there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed.” Well, who in San Francisco would be “offended or annoyed” by a guy from the “nude-in” dining at the next table? But notice that reference to “lewd thoughts.” Frankly, I find it alarming. Nowhere in the country are we barred from “lewd thoughts” save in San Francisco. As the thought police descend on the City by the Bay, remember what I have said: Liberalism always goes too far.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).