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
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail