A Liberalism That Dominates

Why do people think they can vote for a politician to represent them and then not be morally responsible for what that politician does in their name?

I’m specifically thinking of politicians with known political records. In such cases, voters can’t reasonably plead ignorance. One has to assume that they approve of the choices made by their preferred political representative. If that is the case and it is hard to interpret it otherwise, this speaks badly for most voters across the political spectrum.

Do these people honestly wonder why politicians do bad things when they vote for politicians known for doing bad things? Or are these people simply disconnected from reality, disconnected from the larger world of consequences where real people are harmed?

That last question points to a real possibility. Those who are most harmed by our government are those who don’t or can’t vote: the poor who are shut out of the political system, minorities who experience voter suppression, felons who are disfranchised, undocumented immigrants who never had voting rights, and foreigners who have no influence over our government. But those aren’t the people I’m focused on here. It remains to explain those who can and do vote.

I’m unconvinced that the voting public doesn’t know they are supporting politicians who harm so many other humans, large numbers of them being their neighbors and fellow citizens. I know ignorance is rampant. But with internet and social media, knowledge of government actions and political records is hard to avoid. To not know this kind of thing at this point requires a particularly virulent form of willful ignorance. Even then, in order for that ignorance to be willful what is being ignored has to be acknowledged at some level of awareness, even if subconsciously.

Another explanation is lesser evilism. I have considered that in great detail as of late. It is the rationalization often given for why people vote the way they do. I don’t doubt that people are easily manipulated by fear-mongering. And I don’t doubt that political campaigns and PR companies are highly advanced in the techniques they use to manipulate voters. Still, that isn’t a fully satisfying explanation.

What if we take at face value how people vote? Maybe they aren’t voting for a lesser evil. Maybe it is no mere unintended side effect the harm done by the politicians who represent them. Maybe, just maybe voters really do get exactly what they want. I’ve resisted that conclusion for a long long time. It is the most demoralizing possibility that I can imagine. But it is starting to seem compelling.

My thoughts here have been largely elicited by listening to supporters of Hillary Clinton. Her political record is well known and widely discussed. It is easy to find out all the details of her political career. What bothers me is that much of what she has supported over the years and decades has led to horrific results, both in terms of decisions she has made in official political positions she has held and what she helped promote in working with her husband in his political career.

Clinton has been extremely active in promoting a particular worldview and social order. And to be honest one has to admit that it isn’t entirely inspiring: cutting welfare, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime policies, war hawk policies, promoting the overthrow of governments, etc. All of this corresponds to the money she gets from speaking fees and donations to campaigns and to the Clinton Foundation—from: prison industry, corporations, particular foreign governments, etc. She does the bidding of those who pay for her services. All of this is out in the open.

Maybe people who support her (and politicians like her) know fully well what she stands for. Maybe these voters completely understand what they are buying with their vote. Maybe they are intentionally aligning themselves with certain powerful interests. Maybe they want politicians who, from their perspective, will do what needs to be done.

It might seem like hypocrisy. Supporters of Hillary Clinton often claim to be liberals and progressives. So, how can they support her illiberal and reactionary policies? Yet maybe this misses the point.

The purpose of politicians in a democracy is to represent voters. If we take this as being genuinely true, then it indicates politicians are doing what voters want them to do. The confusion comes from there being a difference between what people say they want and what they actually want. That is what politicians are for, as they will do what voters want them to do, even though voters can’t admit that is what they want them to do. Politicians allow for plausible deniability, a disconnect between the voting public and government action.

We live in a liberal age. But we rarely think about what this means. What really is liberalism? Why do conservatives speak the rhetoric of liberalism and invoke liberal values? And why do liberals so often act like conservatives? Considering this, what exactly is this liberal order that dominates our minds and lives?

6 thoughts on “A Liberalism That Dominates

  1. there has been a long, sustained program in the West, to move the political spectrum itself always to the Left so that everybody on it is dragged to the Right. There is almost no actual Left at all in North America, and the ones vilified as “Lefties” today would have been the not-moderate Conservatives of the 1960s. No way Obama is Left of Nixon, even if he’s a far better human being. Well, not by much, anyway. That is why it takes so little humanity for people to call themselves “liberal” in North America. I hope I haven’t told you this one before – an “American Liberal” is one who wouldn’t execute a retard unless said retard killed a cop. We’ve all forgotten what liberal means. The Tea Partiers (now Trumpies) actually equate “liberal” with Nazism and fascism, they really have no idea how the political spectrum goes either, same as the “liberals” you’re describing. That is a long program of deliberate obfuscation, of mind control, that is.

    • I agree. That is the kind of thing I’ve been saying for a long time.

      I’ve specifically been arguing more recently that Hillary Clinton should be considered as a standard example of a conservative. The Democrats are the conservative party and the Republicans are the right-wing party. In the mainstream, there is neither a liberal nor a left-wing party.

      Of course, this ignores the colonial and imperial tradition of classical liberalism. That is the origin of what goes for liberalism in US mainstream media and politics. In other countries, most people would think of it as conservatism.

      I don’t care so much about arguing about labels. My point is that the two main parties have more in common than not. My other point is that earlier last century Sanders’ so-called socialism would have simply been labeled as liberalism or progressivism. Even ignoring labels, we should keep all of this in a larger context of historical and global politics.

      BTW I would clarify one thing you said. It isn’t necessarily that Nixon was to the left of Obama. It’s that the political frame was further to the left back then. Also, the American public had more power to influence government. As a professional politician worried about his public support, Nixon felt forced to vote further left than he actually was. Since that time, the American public has lost so much of its prior power. There is no one to force Obama to the left in his policies, and so monied interests inevitably push him to the right.

      What the US has right now is a corporatist banana republic. The obfuscation, mind control, propaganda, PR, etc is deliberate and highly effective. The US government and corporations probably have spent trillions of dollars over the past several generations in researching how to influence and manipulate both foreign and domestic populations. It is an extremely advanced science at this point.

    • Neo-liberalism is revamped colonial and imperial classical liberalism. What was supposedly liberal about it was that it had a ‘progressive’ vision of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden.

      It was what, for example, led to setting ‘free’ the feudal serfs so that the commons could be privatized (the primitive accumulation that made a capitalist class possible), and then the landless peasants were ‘free’ to be homeless and starve to death. Related to that, it is why Abraham Lincoln could support both abolition and the Indian Wars—making the world ‘free’ for capitalism.

      • Wow, I really learned something there, thanks.

        So “liberal” was never the positive-sounding concept we grow up thinking it is, it was always Newspeak. That’s a big piece I’ve been missing.

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