Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Manny's: The Go-To Spot for Democratic Presidential Candidates in San Francisco

Even if you don't live in San Francisco, some of you might have heard of Manny's. It is a social justice oriented cafe and civic gathering space in the San Francisco Mission whose owner (the eponymous Manny, an Afghan-American Jew) committed the terrible sin of wishing Israel a happy birthday. For this, his establishment has been the subject of protests by an extreme-left fringe.

The protests are not exactly big, and they haven't stopped Manny's from thriving. Nonetheless, the story made the national Jewish press, as tales like this are wont to do. A progressive Mizrahi Jewish social activist creating an affordable cafe that employs formerly homeless individuals being set upon by far-left protesters as a "Zionist gentrifier"? I know click-bait when I see it.

But today, I saw another story about Manny's, one not reported in the Jewish press but just the local San Francisco CBS affiliate: Manny's is, by far, the biggest go-to venue in the city for prospective Democratic presidential candidates. He's already hosted or scheduled to host Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Seth Moulton, Beto O'Rourke, Eric Swalwell, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, and Kamala Harris. It's a roster that apparently dwarfs any other similar venue in the city. If you're a Democrat and you've got national ambitions, Manny's is the hot spot in San Francisco.

The thing is -- I don't even view this as Democratic candidates bravely defying the hard left which sought to marginalize and degrade Manny's. Why? Because I doubt their protest frankly even hit the radar screen of your average Democratic presidential campaign. There's a version of this narrative where the Democrats are visiting Manny's in "solidarity" against the protesters, but I doubt this is even a case of that. The protest movement against Manny's, in terms of its ability to exert influence on mainstream Democratic politicians, is almost certainly so marginal as to be utterly irrelevant. The CBS story didn't even mention the boycott movement (which, to be honest, may have petered out anyway). It was literally a non-story in this story.

When we talk about the supposed creeping influence of the extreme anti-Israel left on Democratic Party politics, this really needs to be kept in mind. There are chicken littles who view every crank carrying a "Zio-Nazi" poster or campus activist calling Hillel an instrument of Zionist repression as the next head of the DNC. And then there's my position is that fringe is fringe, and that the breathless coverage such groups get by the Jewish press massively overstates their influence on anything that remotely approaches a mainstream liberal institution. The popularity of Manny's among visiting Democratic luminaries certainly seems to be powerful evidence in favor of the latter posture. This big scary far-left protest that got coverage across the national Jewish press? Turns out, it didn't even register as a blip in terms of Manny's viability as a Democratic organizing space.

I can't say I blame the extreme-left protesters for trying to portray themselves as bigger than they are -- the voice of the people! (What's the alternative: "We're a tiny fringe that has no real constituency but nonetheless ought to be viewed as the sole authentic representative of the people, because something-something-revolutionary-vanguard!"?). But we certainly don't have to indulge them.

We should struggle against the availability heuristic on our own time. Fringe remains fringe.

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