The Limits of Liberalism

In 2006 I did something monumentally stupid, something that can only be chalked up to pure, unadulterated ignorance and the folly of youth. I voted. For a Democrat. And I did so — wait for it — under the impression I might be helping to end a war.

Those readers still with me, please control your laughter and let me explain. At the time I justified my decision on the basis that maybe, just maybe, if the Democrats took over Congress they might feel tempted — if only for purely partisan political gain — to fulfill their stated goal of bringing the Iraq war to an end. I know. I know.

In my defense, I only voted; there were no late nights at the phone bank for me, no impassioned letters to the editor imploring my fellow citizens to fulfill their patriotic duty. Others, however, whom I respect and share much in common politically, did dedicate both their time and financial resources to electing Democrats under the genuine, but wholly mistaken, belief they would stand up to the Bush administration every once in a while. We know how that turned out.

And that brings me to the recent primary elections, which I believe illustrate a point I have learned many times over since ’06; namely, that electoral politics is at best a diversion, a tried-and-true means for the political establishment to channel public anger with the status quo in such a way that the status quo is never seriously threatened. Oh yes, the unwashed masses can celebrate the ritual Kicking Out of the Bums — Good bye Arlen Specter! See ya in hell, Blanche Lincoln! — but only with one ginormous catch: they inevitably have to select some other bum to take their place.

Take the race to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, a contest that pitted the turncoat Specter against congressman and former admiral Joe Sestak. Despite the backing of President Obama and support from the rest of the Democratic establishment, Sestak was able to beat the decrepit, principle-less incumbent. A success, right?

That’s how it’s being played on the liberal blogosphere. “An amazing night!” wrote OpenLeft’s Chris Bowers upon receiving news of Sestak’s win. “The energy is with Dems and progs again!”

Except, well, it’s not so clear electing the younger, more photogenic Sestak serves any real “progressive” goal, outside the fleeting ephemera that comes with knowing Arlen Specter is probably feeling sad for himself somewhere. Should Sestak win the seat in November, he’ll probably hold the seat for decades, which certainly won’t improve the lives of those suffering under U.S. military occupations and the constant threat of Predator drone strikes — not that Democratic primary voters much cared — given Sestak’s wholehearted embrace of Obama’s 30,000-plus troop surge in Afghanistan and his ramping up of the illegal, undeclared war in Pakistan.

The hated Specter, on the other hand, at least made a show of questioning Obama’s foreign policy, even declaring his opposition to the surge. Details.

In Arkansas, meanwhile, corporate Democrat (ed. note: redundant) Blanche Lincoln has been forced into a runoff with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a former Clinton administration official whose chief qualifier appears to be that his name is not Blanche Lincoln. He also has excellent hair. But with the demise of Lincoln’s political career increasingly appearing to be a given, even proponents of Halter, like FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher — a genuinely well-intentioned activist whose work I often admire, and who helped spearhead the effort to unseat Lincoln — concedes he is “no raging liberal.” He is, however, “a Democrat, whereas Lincoln is a corporatist.” To which I say, there’s a difference? Again, to hop on my hobby horse, there certainly will be no difference for the victims of America’s bipartisan-endorsed warfare state, as Halter’s campaign page makes clear he’s committed to “ensuring success in Iraq and Afghanistan and crafting a strong, forward-leaning foreign policy.” For those at home, the words “forward-leaning” probably mean the good people of Yemen and/or Iran should seriously start thinking about investing in some bomb shelters.

As I’ve argued before, instead of activists spending so much in the way of time and resources in electing more and better politicians, why not skip the middle man? Instead of raising funds and organizing house parties for some snake oil salesman, crossing your fingers and praying they uphold 1/8th of their campaign promises, why not redirect those efforts to taking matters into one’s own hands — relying on the power of people voluntarily acting in concert to improve their communities rather than hoping some asshole politician sends an earmark your way? I understand the impulse to support what appears to be incrementalist reform, but at a certain point the dedication to incrementalism neuters the ability of people to consider the holistic, systemic reform the U.S. needs.

Instead of banking on a politician improving our world, my advice? Improve yourself. Be an example to others. Work not on the behalf of a political party, but your community. Put simply, forget the polling booth and head to the soup kitchen. At least then you won’t be complicit in a bloodied, immoral system.

Charles Davis is a journalist based in Washington, DC. More of his work may be found on his Web site. Read other articles by Charles.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 21st, 2010 at 10:02am #

    Those trapped in the mentality that politics in market capitalist societies can ever achieve anything but continued kleptocratic rule by plutocrats who are overwhelmingly disproportionately Zionist Jews, ought to be pitied. The more robust approach of holding them in contempt is pointless and lacks compassion.After all, these people are displaying a common feature of people everywhere when faced with their own impotence-they deny reality and take refuge in magical thinking. These tendencies were apparent in the UK as the Blair regime proceeded, as day followed day,year after year, and still Blair failed to deliver and held fast to the policies of the Thatcherite dystopia that the gullible had imagined he would end. And, even more dramatically, the dopes roped in by Obummer, the greatest confidence trickster in US politics for quite some time, still seem to be stuck in deep,deep,in denial. To look political reality, as with death, in the face, takes some courage, and most people lack moral courage. Americans are brainwashed from birth in lies about their society, human nature and the rest of the world that it takes intelligence, knowledge and courage to reject as the lies that they are. Many people spend decades in self-satisfied denial, smugly deluded that they are a sort of global elect, never to awaken,or only to realise the truth when old and worn out. The United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal called it, doesn’t approve of memories that reveal forbidden truths. What other society could countenance the exact re-enactment of the Zionist controlled campaign of lies and demonisation being prosecuted with rising fervour against Iran, so completely alike to that which proceeded the crucifixion of Iraq, as if in a state of total absence of recall of events a mere eight years ago? The actions of the US, led by the nose by its Zionist money men, are not only comparable to the crimes of the Nazis, but are building up a reservoir of hatred throughout the world that will explode in the coming years of economic and ecological collapse and resource depletion. As things stand this will be welcomed by the Zionists and their Sabbat Goy stooges as justification for the wars of mass murder surely soon to come, as the global overlords attempt to insitute a global apartheid system,where the ‘useless eaters’ are left to starve to death in an archipelago of Gazas and Iraqs.

  2. bozh said on May 21st, 2010 at 10:55am #

    What we have in US is one party with two wings and 5c to 6c individuals each having his-her pet-trifling issue to pursue. Natch, it can and does produce a friction among many of such individuals.

    But these trifling issues [usually ab money, homosexuals] last only as long as uncle allows it; or, rather, until uncle wants to do s’mthing very important; such as bombing hiroshima and nagasaki with that nice-sleek silvery bomb or carpeting vietnam, laos, combodia, afgh’n, and iraq with all kinds of shiny butiful looking objects.
    Then they unite, but not totally. One or two of them get the assigned role to say nyet, but for trivial reasons! tnx

  3. Deadbeat said on May 21st, 2010 at 3:22pm #

    relying on the power of people voluntarily acting in concert to improve their communities

    This is bad advice or I should say more accurately INCOMPLETE advise that paints a fallacious impression.

  4. lichen said on May 21st, 2010 at 3:28pm #

    Yes, we need to rise up with real, direct, participatory democracy; and one big enough to hack down both the simpletons in washington and the cynical losers who want to counteract any and all possible expression of real democracy.

  5. Rehmat said on May 22nd, 2010 at 7:38am #

    Both Republican and Democrat parties are two faces of the same coin. Their domestic policies are governed by the good-old rich establishments such as the Wall Street and Armament Industry – and their foreign policy is dictated by the Israeli lobby groups – from J-Street to Z-Street.

    Who speaks for the American Jews?

  6. Lee Hall said on May 22nd, 2010 at 8:56pm #

    Thank you for writing this, Charles Davis. It’s indeed vital to make social change at the community level. Also, the Green Party of Pennsylvania has Mel Packer, an antiwar candidate, running for U.S. Senate. Thanks to the Green Party I got a chance to meet Mel and have a real conversation at a recent event at Singapore, a vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia. I work with a group called Friends of Animals whose Penn chapter is supporting a key Green Party initiative (also supported by a good number of local grassroots groups) to oppose natural gas drilling, or fracking, along the east coast. There’s much to do locally and regionally and it’s good to do it with people who put other values before profit. Again, thanks for your thoughtful article.