Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Confessions of the Last Liberal

by Carl Beck Sachs

At last, my fellow citizens, rejoice and step out into the crisp air barely warmed by the autumnal sun, for our long national nightmare is over: the 2012 election is now over and done.  Though the wounds incurred to the national psyche by the last two years continue to ooze pus of resentment, there are bigger fish to fry. And by “bigger fish” I mean some highly opinionated, totally biased, and of course completely objective ruminations.

Post-2012 election assessment: ah, what a strange time to be alive, when privileged, erotically disrupted white men are finally revealed to be the whining, petulant, and entitled minority they’ve always accused other groups of being. To them I say, “Welcome to the 21st century, assholes, hope you enjoy your stay.” And they accuse us of being “special-interest groups”?  To hear their side of it, one might almost get the impression that non-whites, non-straights, non-Christians and women are treated like second-class citizens. Ok, so much for the low-hanging fruit; a few other remarks, in no particular order.

Demographics: The much-touted “red state/blue state” (one state, two state) jargon is slowly easing up, as better data visualizations reveal what everyone ought to pretty much know already: that Democrats and Republicans, like most Americans, live everywhere.  Exit polling data at the county-level shows that there are considerable pockets of conservative voters in “blue” states and considerable pockets of liberal voters in “red” states, i.e. We Are Already Among You.  Apart from that, it seems that Obama (surprise, surprise) did pretty well assembling a broad-based, multi-racial coalition and Romney (surprise, surprise) did not. Obama also did quite well among voters between 18 and 29, garnering 60% of their vote, suggesting that kids are either gullible and easily manipulated, or the opposite. But what really interests me is the rural/urban split: that Obama did extremely well in pretty much every city (including Birmingham), whereas Romney did well in the more rural parts of the country. The red/blue dichotomy is really a rural/urban continuum, with suburbs and exurbs falling out in different ways in different places. Why this is, is an interesting question, on which I shall offer only the flimsiest of hypotheses: that urban life is less amenable to the rampant xenophobia upon which the far-right echo-chamber feeds.

Campaigning: Conceivably, Obama won because he ran a better campaign than Romney did. As Mario Cuomo once put it, “politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose,” and Obama is very likely one of the finest orators of our time. Both campaigns were noticeably short on substance, with major issue after major issue being tabled before, during, and after the presidential non-debates. My sense of the situation is that it’s not that the Democrats did anything particularly good or right, but that the Republicans seemed unable to stop shooting themselves in the foot.  The problem with shooting yourself in the foot is that, afterwards, you’ve got a hole in your foot.  Romney seemed unable to convey much genuine human emotion, because he spent so much energy tailoring his personality to whatever audience he was speaking to at a time. Of the Tea Party and their inability to stop talking about how women should be shamed for having sex, the less said, the better.

Voter Turnout: 50.6% of the popular vote is not exactly a mandate, as such things are reckoned.  With voter turnout at 57.7% of “eligible voters” (itself a significant category, if one considers the injustice of disenfranchisement laws), just under one-third of all votes cast by eligible voters. This is not to undermine the legitimacy of his victory, since most recent presidents have governed perfectly well with a similar margin. However, low voter turnout does reveal a more serious problem concealed amongst the tattered remains of American “democracy”: that so many people have lost faith in it.

Does Either Party Have Much a Future?  Since 2008, the Republicans have had a single goal: to prevent Obama from being re-elected. To that end they have done everything within their considerable power to prevent him from succeeding. And in that fanatical pursuit of that single goal, they failed. And that means that the Republican party is done. That they weren’t able to accomplish this task—with all their fear-mongering, obstructionism, conspiracy-theorizing, and transparent lies —means that they’ve got nothing.  Certainly the Republican Party will continue to be a major political force in the South, as the Know-Nothings once were (were!) in the Northeast.  But it has moved so far to the right that I simply cannot see how it can govern at a national level. It will be a strong regional party for a long time, and of course continue to have a lot of power in the House, but I have to say, I don’t see control of the Senate or the Presidency shifting back to the GOP within the next ten or so years, if it doesn’t do some serious house-cleaning and soul-searching.  And that would be a disaster for the country, because our political discourse is nurtured by the respectful exchange of ideas.

Thus, one might conclude that this is a good time to be a Democrat, but if it is a good time to be a Democrat, it is not a good time to be liberal. The most serious issues that we face as a society—unchecked and permanent war, climate change, massive economic inequality, an unsustainable ‘bubble’ in higher education, and a general inability to recognize that “the dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present”—will not change because an African-American man was re-elected to the highest office in the land.  If anything, I suspect that they will change, if at all, only because of political pressure coming from the left, from the Occupy movements and those aligned with them. We will not see, within the political system, anything like respect for the rule of international law, the safeguarding of civil liberties, the protection of unions and worker’s rights, strengthening of the social-safety net, environmentally responsible policies that are strictly enforced, strong financial regulation, and the refusal to engage in unjust war.  For those of us who, like myself, have grown up as “liberals,” hoping that such ideals could be realized within the political system, we may be the last of our kind. Obama’s victory, however laudable and worth celebrating, does little, if anything, to change that.

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