FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Take Responsibility for My Vote and Its Policy Consequences?

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.

 

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail