After alleging that he suffered harassment at the hands of the area “activist class,” conservative City Council candidate Christopher Rufo announced last week that he would be terminating his campaign to represent District 6 on the Seattle City Council. In the aftermath of the June 2018 demise of the Employee Head Tax, Rufo represented the retrenched right-wing backlash against what he perceived as the unfettered reign of progressivism in Seattle politics.
Rufo’s candidacy did not survive the 2019 election cycle, in which all seven district-level City Council seats will be up for re-election; hopefully, his ideas won’t survive either. Because while liberals decry the rise of Trumpian politics nationally, they should recognize how the failures of capitalism have created, in their own backyards, a comparably conservative resurgence. “There’s a limit to progressivism, even in America’s most progressive city,” Chris Rufo recently wrote. “The backlash is coming.”
While liberals decry the rise of Trumpian politics nationally, they should recognize how the failures of capitalism have created, in their own backyards, a comparably conservative resurgence.
That backlash is here. It has already taken the life of Daniel Alberto, a 26-year-old homeless man whom John Thomas David, 55, became “fixated” on before fatally shooting him in October. The heartless rhetoric of Rufo’s essays have found a home in a city with a soaring homeless population, illustrating a discrepancy between Seattle’s progressive posturing and its creeping conservatism.
Chris Rufo announced his candidacy with a faux-populist campaign ad that hit all the same anti-establishment beats of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s viral internet vid; his campaign graphics were also a not-so-subtle copy of Ocasio-Cortez’s. But the similarities end there. Because while Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist who has decried the demise of social safety nets that keep people from sliding into poverty, Rufo complains about the city’s “compassion brigades.” A former fellow at the creatonist thinktank Discovery Institute, Rufo once cited neoliberal economist Milton Friedman as an influence on his thinking. The right-wing roots of his ideas are further exposed in his personal manifesto, titled “The Politics of Ruinous Compassion,” in which he cites Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister who was infamous for saying “there is no such thing as society.”
Well, there is such a thing as a society. And Rufo’s negative attitude toward the project of collective responsibility would harm the most marginalized in it. There’s also such a thing as history: While Rufo attempted to scrub his social media feeds of all signs of who he was before declaring his candidacy in September, he cannot hide his affiliation with the Trump-supporting Claremont Institute, an anti-marriage equality “policy” center that has come under fire for being tied to literal White nationalist groups.
In Rufo-speak, “clean[ing] up our streets and parks” translates to increased sweeps that brutalize our unhoused neighbors, which is the kind of “law and order” rhetoric used by the likes of Nixon and Reagan to militarize America’s police force since the 1970s. Of those actually attempting to materially help our unhoused neighbors, Rufo says “nothing is more important than their own display of compassion,” and has peppered his writings and speeches with criticisms of Seattle’s “activist class.” Rufo derides what he views as “virtue signalling,” a right-wing talking point peddled by Breitbart to garner sympathy for the police and further foster hatred toward Seattle’s homeless community. He says he wants to “break up the homeless industrial complex,” another right-wing talking point that translates to defunding nonprofits currently offering services. Rufo’s campaign tag, “compassion with results,” left open the option of “reinstitutionalizating” the dangerously mentally ill, an argument for a return to the days of callous sanitariums.
Rufo derides what he views as ‘virtue signalling,’ a right-wing talking point peddled by the likes of Breitbart to garner sympathy for the police and further foster hatred toward Seattle’s homeless community.
The point isn’t that the pressure of seeking public office proved too great a strain on a conservative who found himself ostracized by area progressives for articulating these ideas; it’s that Seattle allowed these ideas to sprout like so many evergreens in the first place. While Rufo’s candidacy may be a thing of the past, we must be wary of similar politicians who deploy the thinly-veiled rhetoric of the right in the future.
Chris Rufo’s candidacy is dead; long live Chris Rufo.
Check out the full Nov. 21 - 27 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.