FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail