Take Responsibility for My Vote and Its Policy Consequences?

by THOMAS S. HARRINGTON

When a person votes for George Bush or another Republican, it is generally presumed that he or she is expressing support for the candidate’s policy prescriptions. This is why those who do not share the same views rightly hold those voters and the person they helped to elect responsible for the measures enacted during his or her term in office.

This is what many Democrats did quite forcefully and vociferously in the years between 2000 and 2008. And to their credit, most Republican activists made honest efforts (however vain they might be in the long run) to defend their man and his record.

But when a Democrat gets elected to office, it seems that this calculus suddenly changes.

Obama has, among many other things, greatly expanded the horrific terror that is drone warfare, increased state secrecy and citizen surveillance, dramatically increased deportations of illegal immigrants, expanded defense budgets, undermined all serious efforts on to curb climate change, largely preserved the ill-gotten gains of financial elites, put entitlement programs on the table for chopping and has turned torture, unlimited detention and extra-judicial killing of US citizens into permanent and legally unassailable elements of American life.

However, when I confront people whom I know voted for Obama and his party with this desultory and undeniably accurate bill of particulars, they act as if it had little or nothing to do with them and their vote. Indeed, in my experience, they not only do not take responsibility for enabling these behaviors,  but will often go to the next step of portraying those of us that point out these obvious realities as liars and fabulists.

What is going on here?

The key to understanding this lies, it seems, in the role high self-regard plays in the life of many liberals. There are, of course many, many humble and sincere advocates for justice and human dignity among those that regularly vote for the Democratic Party. But along side of them, there are many, many others for whom voting for the dark-skinned and silken-tongued Obama is primarily a way of achieving or cementing what the great French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “social distinction”.

In other words, in identifying with Obama and a Democratic party elite that is generally much more cosmopolitan and socially refined than their Republican counterparts, these voters seek to acquire–and here again I recur to Bourdieu—“cultural capital” that they are sure will identify them as sophisticated “players” within our rapidly crumbling, winner-take-all social structure.

For such people, the actually policies implemented by Obama and the Democrats are a decidedly secondary concern. And that is if they are a concern at all.

Indeed, it appears that the President’s team is not only well aware of this dynamic, but has predicated much of its governing strategy upon its continued growth and expansion. When, in early 2010, progressive critics were assailing Obama’s slavishly corporatist approach to health care reform, Rahm Emanuel, referring to the president’s base, said:  “They like the president, and that’s all that counts”.

Translated: “We know from polling that most of our voters could care less about policy outcomes. They are–for their reasons having largely to do with their own need to view themselves as socially better than those crude little Republicans–deeply enamored of the idea of an Obama presidency, and as such, will put up with almost anything we do.”

Viewed from a slightly different angle, this phenomenon goes a long way to explaining the Republican’s extraordinary success in turning middle and lower class voters against the Democrats. All they need to do is hold up a mirror to the rank insincerity and moral indifference of this large and growing sector of the party–think Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, Cass Sunstein and Julius Genachowski– and show just how much of what they do is driven not by a desire to bring peace and dignity to the lives of ordinary people, but rather to burnish their own images as intellectually and morally superior beings.

Yes, for a lot of liberals, the ethos of junior high still looms large. Confident of their exalted status with the in-crowd, they feel little or no need to explain, or even rationalize, the actions they support with their votes. No, explaining is strictly reserved for nerds and their grown-up counterparts who, from their vantage point, are stupid enough to inhabit the right side of the political spectrum.

Thomas S. Harrington teaches in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College.

 

Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 30, 2015
Bill Blunden
The NSA’s 9/11 Cover-Up: General Hayden Told a Lie, and It’s a Whopper
Richard Ward
Sandra Bland, Rebel
Martha Rosenberg
Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Old Oval Office
Binoy Kampmark
Dead Again: the Latest Demise of Mullah Omar
Kathy Kelly – Buddy Bell
No Warlords Need Apply: a Call for Credible Peacemaking in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
Darker Horizons Ahead: Rethinking the War on ‘IS’
Stephen Lendman
The Show Trial of Saif Qaddafi: a Manufactured Death Sentence
Karl Grossman
The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press
Cesar Chelala
Cultural Treasures Are Also Victims of War
John Grant
The United States of Absurdity, Circa 2015
Jeff Taylor
Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance