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:

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.

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I don't think you're missing anything.

The best we can hope for is that Biden pays attention to the virus and the response to it, which so far has been destroying our lives. Comforter-in-Chief as the Titanic continues to sink.

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NYCVG

There are a few more than 8 leftist or progressive if you will members of the House. Prayapal, Lieu, and Porter come to mind and I think there might be a few others. Porter was targeted for extinction by the Rs, so her victory is especially significant.

I love Caitlyn Johnstone, but she seems to believe we have approximately the population of Australia.

Biden owes his victory to the efforts of DSA, Abrams and many others who got voters registered and to the polls. The RW media was squawking No Fair about how leftist organizations in Florida were simply PAYING the fines the RW legislature passed to keep former felons--guys and gals who had already PAID their debt to society, and how many RW types ever pay their debts?--from voting. BTW anyone who thinks what happened to Gillam wasn't a set-up is hopelessly naïve. Biden is an ungrateful bastard, which is one of many reasons I wrote in Bernie's name.

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Nastarana

Cassiodorus's picture

@Nastarana I repeat: there are 435 members of Congress. Significant changes are needed right away.

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"Every election is fake." -- Janna Ordonia, from "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"

Lily O Lady's picture

@Nastarana

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"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

phillybluesfan's picture

@Lily O Lady believe she is from St. Louis/Ferguson

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Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”
― Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Lily O Lady's picture

@phillybluesfan

isn’t as reliable as it used to be.

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"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

And I'd say "the left" does represent a coherent ideology, or, rather, a short range of coherent ideologies, depending on where you fall along a spectrum (social democrat/Keynesian capitalist, socialist (Swedish version), socialist (Lenin, Trotsky, Mao versions), left-wing anarchist (1930s Barcelona), etc.) That said, the point is that much of the "Left" in the U.S. has been colonized where it matters most: inside their own heads.

"(he taps his brow) But in here it is I must kill the priest and the king."
--Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses

We do seem to annoy the nice liberals. Green rags to a bull.

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"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones." - Fiver

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

from kings and gods
is the first step toward
a functioning society

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@QMS

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"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones." - Fiver

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

at the center of the Nice Liberal/Neoliberal Political Alliance:

"We" cannot be both superheroes and lesser-evil voters at the same time.

I'm having a harder and harder time seeing the Nice Liberal/Neoliberal Political Alliance as a real political anything, as it's looking less and less like human beings attempting to gain power to achieve political goals and more and more like a propaganda piece. What I mean by that is that sometimes it seems like this Nice Liberal/Neoliberal alliance doesn't have anything to do with actual people trying to accomplish anything except to persuade the masses that political reality is, or is not, a certain way.

and at the heart of that enterprise is a foul cognitive dissonance. It goes something like this:

1)Reagan and Bush wipe the floor with both liberals and the left for twelve years. Cultural sturm und drang. Leftists erased as if they didn't exist; liberals tarred as unfit for public office.

2)The Clintons and Al From to the rescue. They show the silly liberals and those who shall not be named how to be acceptable people, teaching them that kissing the ass of rich people and the CIA is basically the only way to be politically successful. The liberals, and some of the left, are so demoralized that they accept these terms, telling themselves it won't be too bad, and at least won't be as bad as more Reagan and Bush. We have to compromise. That doesn't sound too bad. It almost sounds polite and civic. And mature. Let's not forget mature. Smart, adult people learn that leftists have to give up their ideas, values and dreams, just like the little girl has to give up that overpriced dolly she wants in the window. We just don't have the money (votes, power, etc). to get you that dolly, honey. Maybe someday we'll get that dolly, but probably little girls are just going to have to grow up and understand that you can't always get what you want.

3)So "pragmatism" and "centrism" are the order of the day for all us mature, worldly-wise liberals who are following Bill Clinton like a will o' the wisp out of the quagmire of the Reagan-Bush years, so desperate for anything resembling a win we'd agree to drink straight petroleum if it would get us a decent showing in November, and we are supposed to leave behind the idea of justice and the idea of creating any kind of society a leftist would want to actually live in. Abandon that silly passion and those silly morals in the trash heap of history.

4)A lot of other shit happens, but the point is that:

5)Obama comes along and suddenly we're supposed to dust off all that passion and all those morals, and put them into the service of lesser-evilism. In other words, we are now uniting, in an almost Hegelian manner, the thesis of a Great Society/social-justice-driven left and the antithesis of a New Democratic "pragmatism." And the only way this can possibly work is through the figure of Obama himself. Morality is dedication to Obama, because if you don't support the first Black president you must be immoral, and justice is saying Obama is right because if you disagree with the first Black president you must be a bigot. Unquestioning adherence to Obama *is* justice.

6) Once it's established that dedication to a particular Democratic elected official *is* justice, you can extend the metaphor at will and apply it to any Democratic party leader, even when what you're supporting is two very rich and sometimes quite racist white people, such as Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, and the sole, tenuous connection you have to anything resembling the ideals of what used to be the Left is that Hillary Clinton has two X chromosomes rather than one.

7)So now you have an ugly hybrid, a monster of two irreconcilable concepts jammed together: the moral imperative of the anti-war and anti-racism movements of the sixties forced into congress (heh) with Clintonian "pragmatism," the force responsible, more than any other, for driving both "liberals" and "the left" out of all meaningful deliberations of American public policy.

The propagandists are giving liberals (and whatever leftists are willing to go along) a place to put their frustrated desire for justice and the betterment of the world. They are giving them the narrative of rising up against ugliness, bigotry and authoritarianism and defeating the tyrants and bigots on behalf of not only truth, justice, and the American way, but also on behalf of a whole range of imperiled and anguished oppressed groups, most of whom we don't hear from except via certain well-vetted and well-paid influencers, all of whom magically share the same complete obedience to Clintonian "pragmatism," whose role is to buttress the credibility of the idea that a passion for justice can co-exist with obedience to the Democratic party leadership. And it needs constant buttressing, because ideologically, it's held together with spit and a prayer. Actually, it's a mirage. Drink sand, baby.

Of course, this political narrative requires not only a holy savior (Obama) but also a demonic villain, and I do wonder whether they're going to continue to use Trump or dig up someone else even more loathsome.

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"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones." - Fiver

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cassiodorus's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal is the notion that Clintonian "pragmatism" has anything to do with the Bernie Sanders agenda. Yet Sanders campaigned for one of the two Clintons, and for Obama's VP as well.

And yes. The Left can't be both a legion of superheroes and a bunch of lesser-evil voters at the same time. The "hybrid," as you were trying to work it out, is that of Superheroes Who Don't Matter.

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"Every election is fake." -- Janna Ordonia, from "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Cassiodorus
If you think it doesn't, that must be your privilege talking.

Somehow, whenever anyone disagrees with the dominant political forces of our time, it's an expression of privilege. Ain't that interesting.

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"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones." - Fiver

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cassiodorus's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal I keep thinking of the "Vindicators," those "superheroes" on that episode of Season 3 of Rick and Morty that was intended to parody "Guardians of the Galaxy." In the end the "Vindicators" either get themselves killed or kill each other while Rick Sanchez, smartest man in the galaxy, completes their mission for them, gets sloppy drunk, and creates little tests for them intended to humiliate and insult them.

Yeah, that's right. The Nice Liberals with Big Egos are like the "Vindicators" on Rick and Morty.

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"Every election is fake." -- Janna Ordonia, from "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"