Councilmember Nelson talked a TV reporter at a Westlake Park press conference in summer 2023.
Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson has often channeled conservative talking points about crime and disorder being at the heart of economic problems when talking to the press. (The Urbanist)

“You gaslight yourself by being crazy.” – Judy Gemstone

This week’s sequence of congressional slap fights scraped the edge of a devastating government shutdown and led to the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The process has resulted in the single most predictable outcome: Democrats being blamed for Republican disarray.

Congressional Democrats did not force McCarthy out. The Dems made it plain that they did not support McCarthy for a list of reasons, including gaming January 6 investigations, permissiveness towards baseless Biden impeachment hearings, and all around brinksmanship when it came to the budget in the first place. The MAGA alt-fascists, empowered by a GOP that’s more than happy to stand back and stand by for a wannabe Caesar, pushed McCarthy. The Dems just didn’t hold a safety net, not that it would catch such a feckless worm.

Now, the fact anyone would suggest that the Democrats had responsibility for this turmoil other than waving at McCarthy during his well-deserved plummet illustrates a fascinating concept in current American politics. There is something called Murc’s Law where only the Democrats have agency in American government. Murc was a commenter on the blog, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, who observed that most political commentary starts and ends with blame on the Democrats. Republicans are just the way they are because Democrats provoked them or failed to control them

The concept is illustrated time and time again, like when increased social funding (not corporate hoarding) led to inflation or Obama’s election and mean speech at a White House Correspondents Dinner (not the GOP’s racist pandering) led to the rise of Trump.

While this congressional nonsensory can be shrugged off as a tattering of the national politics, Murc’s Law has very local application and consequences, even in a perceived liberal citadel like Seattle. Sure, many local positions are non-partisan and few who want elected office or an influence in Seattle politics call themselves a Republican. Even the rare successful Republicans in Seattle, like City Attorney Ann Davison, have to hand wave their voting record. But from obstructionism to rehashing failed policies in policing and homelessness, it’s pretty easy to tell.

A read of headlines over the last few weeks shows local echoes of Murc’s law. There were shouts by lawmakers blaming Washington’s carbon tax for the highest gas prices in the country. There was the closure of Target stores allegedly because of crime. There was local hand-wringing as a British MP called out Seattle as dying.

Scars from the fight over a men’s homeless shelter in Bellevue came to a head again, as conservatives fought for similar restrictions on permanent supportive housing in Bellevue. (Christopher Randels)

Any thoughtful analysis or even half a second of common sense can identify that there is something missing from these stories. Every one of them takes right-wing talking points at face value. The lawmakers interviewed about that gas tax were all Republicans and the prices are in line with the West Coast. It took days for the local fishwrap to find crime at the closing Target stores was not nearly as high as other locations, and they’re probably closing because they were terrible. And UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is essentially a MAGA cover band and one of the most slam-the-door-behind-me MPs on the rights of immigrants.

The political right was a silent verb in all of these headlines, and this is just the most recent batch. News reports about liberal cities never mention the decades-long Republican war on cities to underfund local government and restrict cities’ power to be anything except oversized HOAs. There’s no recognition of the conservative groups that prevent changes to zoning laws out of fear of diminished home values. There’s a willing blindspot to the way those two things combine into the literal structure of surrounding a major city with hundreds of tiny jurisdictions that each get a vote to oppose transit, boost policing, or address homelessness. The Seattle Times has profited off such redlining for decades, so they have zero incentive to bite the hand that feeds them.

Conservative obstructionism is the ever-present headwind to everything that happens in Seattle, and it never gets mentioned. Local right wing thinktanks like the Discovery Institute tout alternative market-based solutions to a progressive ideological regime. They also happen to have the heads of Seattle icons, Dicks Drive-in, Dunn Lumber, and Bartell Drugs (now Cairn West Real Estate) on their board. Lazy local political writing leans on these folks to both-sides debates. Who shows up on local news whenever there is a talk about the impact of a light rail line or shoplifting on downtown retail. If it’s not these bozos, it’s the hit-and-mock apologists at the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

Aerial image of the North Creek/Cathcart area, which is in unincorporated Snohomish County and mostly consists of exurban rural sprawl. (Credit: Google Maps)

The deliberate ignoring of right wing obstructionism gives rise to grifters like Brandi Kruse, Chris Rufo, or Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Choe. Each have used their oppositional “insight” on liberal Seattle as a springboard to national platforms. None ever get questioned about their lack of bipartisanship or how they play a role in blocking solutions to the stuff they’re complaining about. The mildest questions prompt them to send swarms of Twitter trolls to harass local activists. 

Even calling it simply obstructionism papers over how reactionary the right wing ideology is when it demands a city never grow or change. That is a deathblow for a city. Unquestioning headlines pretend there is no agenda to simply asking to slow things down. A few less apartments here. A minute to save a tree there. Address affordable housing first. In reality, these delays force sprawl across jurisdictional boundaries that becomes the costly and time consuming mess with a specific goal. Sprawl undermines the city’s ability to accept new residents, create a middle class, and fight the very fascism so many right-wingers are begging for.

Together, a pandering press and an unquestioned conservative headwind fulfill Murc’s Law by pretending the local right wingers wouldn’t be this way if only the progressives hadn’t gone too far. Even in its seemingly mild Seattle form, right-leaning politics push every person to live the most expensive, consuming lives possible. You’re not crazy that it’s happening. But there’s no time to get to it on this evening’s news because it’s time for this week’s steals and deals.

Article Author

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.