THE BOOK CORNER
By Sebastian Fichera
Angela Alioto had no use for the likes of Art Agnos and Frank Jordan, whom she considered as tools of the special interests which controlled and corrupted San Francisco politics. Two weeks after the mayoral election in which she came in third, behind the two of them, she got into a car accident. This is the way she describes that experience and her subsequent stay at the hospital: “I’d hit my face on the steering wheel, cut my lip, and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital. While I was in the recovery room with my dad (former Mayor Joe Alioto) and my children, both Frank Jordan and Art Agnos visited me. When I woke up from surgery and saw those two, I thought I’d died and gone to Hell.” When this reviewer came to that passage, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Anyone who could write such lines, especially a politician, is a lady after my own heart.
Straight to the Heart is a record of her experience in San Francisco politics, her struggles, her defeats, and her occasional victories. It is an experience which she systematically likens to a journey through Dante’s Hell. I kid you not. She believes that city politics, and in fact politics in general, are that bad. This volume seems to be a kind of moral cleansing after what she had been through. The trouble is that nowadays who needs convincing that politics is corrupt, and that we are all ruled over by a craven political class who is paid to manage the country for the benefit of the special interests? What makes this book different is that she actually gives names and details of how it all works.
What makes it fun is that she designs her own version of Dante’s Hell and – to no one’s surprise – populates it with her political enemies. Reading Straight to the Heart can also be seen as a kind of invitation to each of us design our own private idea of Hell. Who would you, gentle reader, put in that place? A girl or guy who stood you up on a date, an instructor who gave you an unfair grade in an exam, a neighbor who keeps bulldogs in the front yard? And what would you do to them…burn them…freeze them…drown them…have their hearts plucked out by wild animals? Well, as you can see, such mental exercise could have any number of interesting, not to say therapeutic, possibilities.
Angela Alioto’s book is among other things, a passionate plea for more women in politics. “There is a special spot in Hell for women who don’t help other women,” said Hillary Clinton in a recent speech. Well, don’t look now, but Angela Alioto was saying the same sort of thing back in 1997. The amazing thing about Alioto’s book is the prophetic nature of her concerns. She was warning about how the money interests, the corporations, and the lobbyists were taking over American governance twenty years ago.
It does not matter anymore who the ordinary American votes for, which candidate or which party: it’s pretty much the same thing, it’s all pay-to-play, giving us the best government that money can buy. Sadly her warnings went unheeded and the state of American politics has only degenerated since then. In this sense her insights are still timely and her book still packs a punch.
The one bright spot that she sees, the single most potent force for change, is the political empowerment of the female half of the population. She believes that women are unfairly marginalized and that to empower them is to begin solving America’s problems. She, like Hillary Clinton and others, argues that women are more nurturing, more protective of the needy, the aged, and the defenseless, less power drunk, less egotistical, less elitist than the male political animal. Not that I needed much convincing but she certainly makes a compelling case. The more power women have the better off we will all be. How, pray tell, could they possibly screw things up more than the men already have?
Angela Alioto’s Straight to the Heart: Political Cantos was published in 1997 by Russia Hill Press. It is currently out of print, but copies are available at Amazon.com or at Francesco Rocks book store in North Beach, San Francisco.
Sebastian Fichera holds a Ph. D. in History from the University of California Los Angeles. He is the author of The Meaning of Community: The History of Italians of San Francisco (1981) and Italy on the Pacific: San Francisco’s Italian Americans (2011).