On the Necessity of Humility in Politics
On KPFA's "Flashpoints" last night, the nice liberal host was prompting the nice liberal guests to say something about what items of progress they think they can expect under a Biden administration. I don't remember who was talking -- I was listening to the radio while driving home from an afternoon hike. Anyway, here's what I think the nice liberal guests on "Flashpoints" can expect:
- More privatization
- More war
- A broader, deeper separation between the rich and the rest of us
- maybe some sort of insufficient, one-time, means-tested stimulus
- liberal silence
That is, after all, what everyone got from Obama. Last Monday Caitlin Johnstone freaked out about this situation: Biden Will Likely Be Worse Than Obama. The Left Must Lead The Backlash, Or The Right Will. It's a nice sentiment, but let's remember that "the Left" in America (it's astonishing, now, that we can even talk about this as if it were a real group) has been expected to "win" every election since 1988 for Democrats who were in fact neoliberal social climbers. This year we were told that "The Left Must Choose Biden" and that "Leftists and anti-authoritarians have a responsibility to vote out Trump." Johnstone might consider rethinking the idea of piling more expectations upon "the Left." Right now they're busy defending (D) neoliberals as better than (R) ones. I'm sure they'll call her back in two weeks.
Now, in my diaries I have been discussing an interesting group in American politics: the Nice Liberals with Big Egos. Here, you may ask, what is my hangup about their "Big Egos"? Here's the problem. Liberals, and "the Left," are expected to be a race of superbeings. The left-of-center crowd is expected to elect fantastic governments throughout the US, solve all of America's social problems, mitigate climate change, and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. The Nice Liberals with Big Egos are the subset of this group who have been patting themselves on the back for "doing something" toward these ends (and putting the rest of us down for not having done as much), while all the while wars have proliferated, economic downturns have increased in frequency, climate change has intensified, the corporate lobbyists remain in power, the middle class has shrunk dramatically, and social problems remain unsolved. There's a clear first-step solution to all this, doable by the left-of-center crowd right now! Said I to myself. It's called "humility."
Nine days ago, Mother Jones ran this article: "The Squad Doubled Its Ranks. Now what?" But how important is this development? "The Squad" was four members. Now it's eight. There are 435 members of Congress. So let's take stock. After the chaos of the Seventies the liberals have, over the years, had Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Robert Reich, Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, and Bernie Sanders, all Nice Liberals with Big Egos, leading the various charges for liberal policy. And, here we are, celebrating the expansion of "The Squad" from four members to eight after all those past efforts. Is there some reason I'm missing for why I shouldn't just dismiss the whole thing as a failure?
What, then, is the hangup? Well, every time the strength of the liberals and "the Left" is marshaled to support a neoliberal in his or her campaign for President, they lose. Badly. It's more than just the subsequent forfeiture of public office after neoliberals are elected to the White House. It's the public identification that goes on between nice liberals with big egos and neoliberals. If you got behind Hillary Clinton, expect to be identified with more war and more job-killing and privatizing "free trade" agreements. If you got behind Joe Biden, expect to be identified with Democrats who can be tarred as neoliberal social climbers while giving Republicans what they want with their actions.
Every time "we" endorse a neoliberal, therefore, the category marked out by "we" shrinks a bit. This year "we" got lucky because, even though "we" endorsed the successful campaign of Joe Biden, his opponent Donald Trump went through the election run-up having a sign attached to his back that said "HATE ME." The current heyday of "we" will, however, probably not last past the forthcoming rollout of the Biden administration's policy packages. Humility starts with a recognition of the historic and ongoing, decade-after-decade, failure of liberals and of "the Left" to create a category of "we" that has been actually productive of anything good outside of some very local-level efforts and of the relaxation of marijuana laws. "We" cannot be both superheroes and lesser-evil voters at the same time.