The Blog

Where the Inmates Run the Asylum

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors shows what democracy is all about.

11:00 PM, Jan 31, 2005 • By BILL WHALEN
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* Lunatic and Left. Joshua Abraham Norton lost a fortune during California's Gold Rush, then lost his marbles and wandered the streets of San Francisco for more than two decades handing out phony money while proclaiming himself "Emperor of the United States" and "Protector of Mexico." As a reward for his efforts, the Board of Supervisors recently voted to rename the new eastern span of the Oakland-to-S.F. Bay Bridge the "Emperor Norton Bridge" in honor of the man who wore a dress uniform and was known to locals as "Norton I." The supervisors cited history: in 1872, Norton ordered "a bridge be built from Oakland Point to Goat (Yerba Buena) Island and then to Telegraph Hill." The resolution is anything but a given: Newsom has to sign off on it, as do both the Oakland City Council and the California state legislature. But it does set an interesting precedent. Next up: the Colonel Kurtz War Memorial and Performing Arts Center?

The list of the board's meddling and all-around silliness goes on. It just passed a resolution calling for a new trial for Pennsylvania cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal--a darling of the left. Soon, it will debate whether to charge city grocery shoppers an extra 17 cent-fee for every paper or plastic bag. And there's the matter of how to solve that pesky budget shortfall--not an easy task in a town that doesn't like to take the axe to social health programs, but can't afford to scare away tourists and business through higher taxes and surcharges.

All of which serves as a good reminder to the new government in Iraq: freedom is worth the wait. But as San Francisco's Board of Supervisors shows, even democracy can be taken to an extreme.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics.