RADICAL THOUGHTS TO REMEMBER
POST RADICAL POLITICS
I also reject claims that AA voters are only voting for Obama out of racial identification, any more than women are only voting for Hillary out of gender identification. Our identities are complex and what is important in one context may be less so in another. I doubt AA Obama supporters would be similarly enthusiastic about Alan Keyes or that female Hillary voters would jump for the chance to vote for Kay Bailey Hutchison. Once candidates reach a threshold of acceptablility, then certain non-political attributes about the candidate that bear political weight (ethnicity, gender, celebrity) may tip the scapes in that person's favor. What others see as some kind of rejection of a candidate, and the argument is most often put forward as AAs are rejecting Hillary, is better and less divisively seen as merely a ranking of preferences - I like both, but I prefer A to B.
What we are seeing, however, is the way in which Democratic Party leaders and power brokers, large swaths of Left Blogistan and the always opportunistic MSM are seizing on a narrative about working class white ethnic voters - one derived from a shallow, reductionistic interpretation of historical patterns - as being mired in racial resentment and casting votes for punitive reasons. It is as though they are unable to get past historical incidents of white resistence to desegregation, school integration, affirmative action, and other acts that explicitly weakened white socio-economic privilege, and see that the US is a different nation than it was forty years ago. People in these groups, from Obama himself to anonymous commenters on blogs to media whores are persistently pushing a picture of those who do not vote for Obama as:
Middle class or lower
Bitter over lack of economic success
Violent (gun owners, pro-military)
Deluded (clinging to religion)
Illiberal (Reagan Democrats, i.e., not loyal to the Left)
They explicitly label non-Obama voters as "Archie Bunkers" and "Bubbas". There is another, less explicit thread running through thet characterizations, that these people are either too dumb or too deluded to take advantage of social opportunities that would allow them to improve their socio-economic status; in short, that the condition in which these people find themselves is self-inflicted because they are white and therefore are privileged in comparison to minorities as such. If they really wanted to get ahead, they could. (Hmm, where have we heard that kind of argument before? It's kind of what the right argues about minorities...) The list also excludes the possibility that whites of their own class may be illiberal and racist, granting themselves an unacknowledged class exemption from the faults of their socio-economic inferiors. Finally, it skates over the cultural, economic and geographic factors that place the ethic groups in lower income stratas into fierce competition with each other for increasingly scarce and impermanent socio-economic goods. You know, like jobs, health care and retirement income.
There is no acknowledgement that non-Obama voters have far more complex identities than the punch list above. It does not allow room for someone who is working class and struggling to have a constructive preference for another candidate (I like them both just fine, but I prefer B to A). They are always already pernicious race voters. The claim becomes even stranger when one understands that this description is meant to apply to any non-Obama voter, even someone like myself who is in the top quintile of household income, has a graduate degree, is a "creative class" worker, has extremely radical left stances, fervently believes in gun control, does not believe in any deity, and will not vote Republican under any circumstances.
Let's come to a full stop here. What I am describing is a political tactic, based on an inadequate narrative, that is finally backfiring badly on those who have been pushing it. This is not reverse racsim. This is not some attempt by the Democratic elite and their enablers to construct and defend economic and political structures to enforce inequitable distribution of social, political and economic goods on working class whites as a group. (The question of whether Obama's "policies" would enforce inequitable distributions on the working class regardless of race is another question.)
In addition, the hamfisted deployment of a moronic claim against Democratic party rank and file stalwarts in no way excuses the very real persistence of racism in the US, the kind so expertly exploited by the Movement Conservatives for the last four decades. White racsm is real. It harms this nation. It is used to excuse the hateful behavior of others (I'm just fighting the KKK!) which has it's own corrosive effect on the body politic but which cannot equal the damage done here and now by entrenched white privilege, which is mostly entrenched upper-middle and upper class white privilege.
I'll say what Brad Delong, Markos, Ezra Klein, Big Media Matt and the Guy who Kidnapped Josh Marshall (GKJM) will not: The people currently arguing about the alleged racism of Hillary voters are exactly the people who most materially benefit from the existence of white privilege in this nation. That means YOU, boyz. People who are in my socio-economic class (so I'm talking about ME here - I am not excluding myself from the ill-gotten gains) are those who are reaping the long term benefits of the wealth and power generated by centuries of white supremacy.
At its best, the Truman tradition respects the lives and choices of the common man, it measures a person's worth by the good that they do, values the common good and common sense, and insists that the proper role of government to enable her citizens to flourish without regard to station. At its worst, it is parochial and suspicious of outsiders, takes pride in ignorance of the world or the life of the mind, substitutes tradition for law, and uses the government to skim wealth and punish enemies.
The Stevensonian focus is on the structures and institutions that treat all men equally, regardless of origin. The Truman focus is on the texture of individual lives and the particularity that distinguishes us, sometimes to the detriment of the universality of law.
So, there is an older tradition in the party, one that had already been significantly modified by amalgamating Appalachian Jacksonians with the ethnic urban machines, rejecting tidewater Southern influence (Note – Much of my categorization of Anglo populations comes from Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer) which almost immediately is thrust into tension with the newly minted intelligentsia of the New Deal. The Stevensonians present the old progressive argument – our way is better because it is rational, smarter, experimental, efficient, uplifting, rules-based - and add to it the cry of the credentialed - we run it better because of our expertise. Think of someone in the 1990s who knows a business inside and out, who comes into the office one day to find a computer on his desk and a geek standing by to teach him how to use it.
Thanks for the history lesson, but where in all of this is radicalism? For the most part, outside of the party proper, though different expressions of radicalism are associated with the two major strands within the party. With the Stevensonian base, there is the home of intellectual radicalism. This is what the Right wants everyone to think of as paradigmatic of the Left, even as it has never been particularly effective. It tends to be limited to think tanks, graduate seminars and bloviating bloggers (Me! Me!), but it is also where you find reprobates like William Ayers, who tried to justify his terrorism and murders with intellectual clap-trap. Outraging bourgeois sensibilities for fun and profit, and never mind the bodies we leave behind. I would dump losers like Ward Churchill into this bucket as well, who imagine that crude anti-Americanism and ham fisted “analysis” of imperialism justifies praising the butchery of thousands in the World Trade Center. These are people external to the political system for the most part, who are able to attain standing in certain enclaves where other Left intellectuals romanticize what they hear and imagine themselves to be cool radical outlaws because of the putrid company they keep. These moral midgets provide the Right with a very effective club to use against the Left.
There is a different kind of radicalism that tends to find greater expression within the Truman strand, but which, because it shares the porous quality of that mode of political participation, is fully open to all parts of the Left. This radicalism comes primarily out of labor unions and civil rights, though it also finds a home in peace and environmental activism, and it is performed by people from every part of the Left. This radicalism is not conducted within the heads of people who are already quite comfortably situated in society, but is done on the street to transform the institutional structure of the polity itself. This radicalism is what actually terrifies the Right and is the kind that can result in a fundamental modification to the society as such. It does not happen very often and its goals are usually both modest and profound. To be paid what you are worth. To be judged by the content of your character. To have the same civil protections that a white/male/straight/rich person enjoys. To have food, shelter and care commensurate with leading a dignified life. This radicalism is a challenge to entrenched privilege and will result in a reallocation of power and social goods.
The success or failure of Democratic radicalism depends critically upon the efforts of the Truman strand of the party. The genteel reformists have no skin in the game, so to speak, and can take or leave these fundamental claims for a later time. I don’t think it is a mistake that it was Truman and LBJ who forced the country to move decisively towards ending segregation. I do not think the participation in and tolerance of misogyny from the “educated class” this electoral round is a mistake either, noticeable among women of that class as much as among the men. I may be disgusted but I am not surprised by the willingness of the “progressive” blogosphere to push things as fundamental as universal health insurance and Social Security off to the side in favor of gushing over cool ironic detachment and the ability to make sly cultural references.
It’s easy to denounce the entire corrupt US government, or to declare you are not a part of the great unwashed, but belong to an archipelago. It does not require courage. One needs nothing but an ego, a distorted view of your own self-importance, and an internet connection for that form of radicalism. It is not very radical, nor does it really make you part of Left politicS...
The day started with Rebecca Whisnant’s paper on the challenges pro-pornography 3rd wave feminism poses for a feminist anti-pornography movement. But rather than just lament the problems with 3rd wave feminism, Whisnant uses this opportunity to articulate a clear distinction between 2nd and 3rd wave feminism. She argues that viewing the difference as solely generational is a mistake. There is a fundamental difference between the 2 waves that isn’t reflected in current literature. In 3rd wave feminism, she argues, there is a reluctance to speak for other women, and thus, most of the arguments about what counts as feminist revolve around the choice of the women directly involved.
Therefore, if a woman chooses to appear in pornographic material, that choice is necessarily feminist. Members of the 2nd wave believed that women shared a common condition, and as they began to uncover the political implications of their private lives, they felt very strongly that their personal decisions had much broader implications for women everywhere. Because of these divergent views about what constitutes feminist action, 2nd and 3rd wave feminists developed very different reactions to pornography.
In fact, it seems like the 3rd wave arguments are less about pornography and more about personal freedom and autonomy. But those concepts are not uncomplicated. To say that something was autonomously chosen is so complex and contingent that it becomes a meaningless statement. These accounts rarely take into account the full weight of coercion, adaptive preferences, economic and social inequality, and a whole host of other factors that constrain one’s autonomy. We’ve been talking a lot in one of my classes about feminism being similar to membership in a union. In certain situations, you may be asked to give up something that is personally beneficial because your rejection of it works to the advantage of the entire group.
This example was offered in our discussion of marriage, but I think fits somewhat into the pornography debate. However, this argument assumes that participation in the porn industry is beneficial to some women, and that’s a dicey claim I don’t really agree with. It can be economically beneficial, but to the extent that much participation in pornography is fueled by one’s own experiences with child sexual abuse I’m inclined to say that it isn’t beneficial. Regardless, the fact remains that the existence of pornography and the porn industry impact the lives of all women, and taking that into consideration is something that distinguishes 2nd wave feminism from 3rd wave feminism.
She points to the distinction between liberal and radical feminism as another way to understand the difference, arguing that 3rd wave feminists favor liberal feminism while the second wave is radical. This is a problem, though, because a lot of the members of the 3rd wave identify as radical feminist while promoting and advocating a liberal feminist agenda (is anyone else uncomfortable about the cover of Feministing blogger Jessica Valenti’s new book, Full Frontal Feminism?).