Thursday, July 02, 2009

Identity Politics

It seems to me that when people become embroiled in Democrat vs. Republican arguments all the participants in said argument have succumbed to that age old temptation to argue about the wrong thing. It is as pointless as arguing which is better – vanilla ice-cream or chocolate. They taste a little different but they’re essentially identical, they are both ice-cream.

I have been writing criticisms of Obama and the Democratic Party for over a year and that is not because I think the Republicans are better in some way. It is because it was obvious that after the failure of the Iraq War and the tanking economy that the Democrats would be in power plus the realization that the Democrat leadership is just as gung-ho for imperialism as the Republican leadership, in fact I think you could make a solid argument that the Democrats are more gung-ho than the Republicans with the exception of W. Bush perhaps. If the Republicans were in power now it is quite likely I would be writing more about them but they aren’t.

I have felt for some time that American politics are identity politics where just like in the American car culture, the car that people choose to drive is in some manner an extension of themselves. Why did W. Bush buy a ranch in Texas and then do photo-ops of cutting brush? Identity politics, that’s why. I’m sure all successful politicians know that it is the packaging that counts, not what’s in the container. I suspect that this identify thing outweighs what any political party actually does in the eyes of people who choose to belong either party.

Ideology also plays a role in identity politics. According to legend the Republicans are the conservative party promising small government and fiscal responsibility yet when have they ever even remotely achieved this? Never. The Democrats ideology is supposedly more liberal and amendable to valuable domestic programs. Yet it was a Democratic president – Bill Clinton—who destroyed the Welfare program, a valuable safety net. The Democratic leadership also likes to portray their murderous wars as “Humanitarian” and sees itself as leading a recalcitrant world to a new liberal Democratic utopia. It goes without saying that when judging a politician that what party they belong to is irrelevant as is half of what they say. The only way to judge them is by their actions yet that is so rarely done in what passes for political discussion today.

So should I dislike someone because they support one or other of the two major parties? You would have to dislike an awful lot of people if that is the case especially if you don’t support either party which I do not.

The truth can be found in more than one place. The truth doesn’t belong to a particular ideology or political party. And if you find yourself dismissing a valuable insight from someone because they like Obama or Ronald Reagan or whoever then you are a victim of identity politics.


At July 02, 2009 11:54 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Well said. Undoubtedly one of the reasons millions of people still think Obama is a socialist, his aversion to single-payer notwithstanding.

At July 03, 2009 2:25 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

I like that "ice cream" comparison and will quote it on my blog--thanks.

At July 03, 2009 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how does identity politics work? does it work because people believe what they're sold? or does it work because people clamor for superficiality?

would things improve if politicians were sold on their substance, rather than their image?

was Dubya Bush really a massive imperialist compared to the entire Donkey and Elephant parties as respective groups? or was he sold that way by the mainstream media who coddle Donkeybots?

most times when people say they have moved beyond tribalistic, identity politics, they show their remnants of their old romantic incline toward an Elephant or a Donkey. I know scores of people whose skepticism toward Obama doesn't successfully hide their seething contempt for all things Elephant. questioning a single Democrat, or a group of them, while harboring a fantasy that in the end a "pure" Democrat is better than a "pure" Republican (a flaw many, many people harbor) is nothing more than tribalism with an elaborate bit of fascia.

rejecting both major parties is the only sane solution, but it seems that solution terrifies many. why is that? do people need their group identities so badly that they can't imagine NOT belonging to a group?

I think the answer is NO but I think that a lot of people choose in a weak and cowardly fashion when it comes to political matters, mainly because while they adopt a surface of bravado and "team-player" spirit, they secretly don't know diddly squat about political workings or how power is gained and wielded.

the truth of American politics is that the Donkey vs Elephant game is a massive, massive charade. any political commentary which fails to realize this point is just spitting into the wind.

At July 03, 2009 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dubya Bush appeared to be a comparatively true-believer imperialist because that's what the people funding his Admin wanted. they wanted war, they wanted to pillage the US treasury. they wanted excuses to push us toward The Third Reich and they wanted a Reichstag Fire.

the people who run Obama's admin want nothing different, but they realize that the public, by and large, grew tired of the doofus cowboy / arrogant fratboy persona that Bush projected around the world. what most Amerizombies want is imperialist continuation with a smiley face painted on it. they want Obama, in other words.

why do they accept this Mandingo Man? is it simply liberal guilt? a hankering for a "symbolic" change in America, the massive "evolution" of having a "Black President"? of course that's part of it and that's precisely why Obama was tapped back in 2004.

those who operate the levers of power do not plan on the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly scale. they plan by the decade, or the score. the only use shorter periods hold for them is watching the political winds, to see what Amerizombies are bitching and whining about. they use such information to make shifts like Bush to Obama, while ensuring their long-view continuity remains beneath the topical change.

how do we combat this?

we focus on what has not changed, not what has changed. we focus on the fact that EVEN THOUGH Barack Hussein Obama has a lovely "progressive" wet dream of a background (university professor parents, biracial, exotic name, Ivy League education), he's as much a lying scumsucker as Dubya Bush.

when American "liberals" and "progressives" are able to say such things about a Black man without reeling from the guilt and retracting or qualifying the honest actual critical reality, progress will actually occur in the "progressives" and liberty will be found among the "liberals."

if the tenor of the primary contributors here were latent pro-Republican, I'd offer some observations on how to get Elephant-bots out of their respective partisan comas, but that's not the underlying problem here.

At July 03, 2009 1:06 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

The only thing I know that might possibly change things is for ordinary people to stop giving money to political candidates at the national level and allocate that money instead to organizations like The Real News, helping to create an infrastructure of viewer and reader supported non-profit journalism portals.

(And even though I mostly like The Real News, I don't think people should put all their eggs in one basket, but also sponsor other such ventures, and there are others.)

I remember when the invaluable went dark in October of 2008 thinking, what the fuck is wrong with this picture?" as, simultaneously, we saw stories about the fund-raising prowess of the Obama machine, raising 150 million bucks in the month of September.

Cursor went bust for want of about 75 grand, an amount could easily raise on any given day before it was time for the operators to break for lunch.

The timidity and sheer awfulness of the corporate media is one reason, possibly the main reason, that a lot of Americans are ignorant and misguided.

(the GOP bred sanctity of tax cuts is also a BIG part of the problem, although post-1994 Democrats running from that fight obviously doesn't help.)

People in general may have educational and various personal shortcomings, but I'm convinced most voters do want to make responsible choices, and not just stimulate their pleasure centers at the expense of their children's futures. But the rapacious corporate media goes out of its way to make it progressively harder to do so. How can you make informed choices if you are repeatedly and deliberately misinformed?

If all your life dietitians told you that your only choice was between a regular candy bar with lots of fat and chemicals, and a "heart-healthy" candy bar with lots of fat and chemicals and a supposedly crucial smidgen of bran, and nobody within audible range told you any different, what would you believe?

"well, they did tell me which one was the healthy one, so it must be my fault..."

Periodically we see polls showing a poor impression of the congress. More recently the polls have shown the congress still mostly in the dumper but the president with significantly higher ratings than the congress.

I'm guessing a lot of this is false sentimentality, driven in part by the fact that [1]the prez is still comparatively new at the job, and [2] a person, where the congress is an amalgamated abstraction.

I wonder how many people have a wildly divergent view of how they view the congress versus how they view their congressperson.

(It would be interesting to see numbers, not necessarily on a district-by-district basis, but by total number of districts where the individual congressman got mostly positive numbers while the congress got mostly negative numbers.)

Of course, maybe they're all above-average. That would explain everything.

At July 03, 2009 3:39 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

I don’t know what will or would change the status quo. At this point we have been effectively cut out of the political process. Certainly the news media is useless except for weather forecasts that are wrong half of the time. But the government is controlled by the corporate lobbies and the Israeli lobby while the government controls the news, the military, the police, the intelligence agencies and we control – what? And it actually goes even deeper than that because we have all been indoctrinated to various degrees. In other words there would have to be a cultural sea-change before there would be any kind of government reform. And I’m not even sure that would have any affect as you would still need to find a way to break the cycle of corruption in the government especially regarding the military-industrial-scientific-congressional complex. I don’t think that that is possible any longer; perhaps it was say fifty years ago but today?

I don’t think any presidential election has ever been more illustrative of just how much the public is left out of the loop than the last election. The process of choosing candidates is controlled by those same corporate interests which will guarantee that we will always have a choice between two corporate whores with very little difference. So we end up with no choice at all. And the continuity of Bush doctrine by Obama has been nothing less than breathtaking, further proof that we have been totally removed from the loop.

And really the whole idea of government reform is likely to be a blind alley because the whole purpose of government is to allow one group of people to dominate and control other groups of people. In the case of our own government it is the top ten percent of the wealthiest who are controlling the rest of us. But that’s what governments do. So what is there to reform when the whole basic idea is rotten?

At July 03, 2009 3:46 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

I’m glad you liked my analogy, wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not. And thank you for taking time to stop by and read our little screeds.

At July 03, 2009 3:56 PM, Blogger Mimi said...

Oh, Rob, you guys just had a discussion about the abysmal state of the electorate. We bloggers, maybe, are the ones, a few thousand of us, who could turn things around. So I read your stuff and the others and I keep thinking more and more of us will band together and make a difference.
I know--fat chance, but I can dream, can't I?

At July 03, 2009 4:40 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

I suppose I do sound awfully negative. I do believe that changes could be made if people pulled together and organized. It is a proven method. And while I don’t think we could topple the power structure it’s entirely possible that we could force some concessions that could make life better for a lot of people. A few of these might possibly be a single payer health plan, actual reform in banking practices, investment in job creation by say making it more lucrative for manufacturing companies to relocate back here in the states through maybe tax breaks or tariffs on imported goods. Foreign policy change though may be too much to hope for. It is too well ingrained after over a century of essentially the same type of imperialism. That aspect may have to run its dismal course.

However the key is organizing and acting in the real world though blogging is useful as it has made it more difficult for things to be hushed up by the mainstream news. Right now the most popular blogs seem to be those that are in the Democratic camp or the Republican camp which is quite useless. Even if the liberal blogs did help Obama to be elected – though I’m not quite convinced of that – it didn’t work out quite so well considering what Obama is.

I’m afraid that things will get worse for quite some time. Even popular programs like social security could end up on the chopping block with a guy like Obama as prez. It may turn out that people would have to fight just to keep the wolves at the door from utterly destroying what little good there is.

At July 05, 2009 8:25 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

I think the blog and a lot of the comments have touched on my concerns with identity politics, that it is the mental shorthand that we use to determine who represents our interests when in fact the "leaders" don't represent our interests at all.

I came across a science article the other day about empathy. In short, it said that an observer felt less empathy for someone in pain if that person was of another group. The gist of the article is that it is a natural, inherent human response. The exclusive the group one is attached to, the less empathy an individual has for the rest of the world.

Post WWII the CIA and its allies and constituents throughout the ruling class have studied human nature. Propaganda is planned to exploit those human weaknesses because they are the quickest way to our heads and hearts. Thus, reactionary candidates have a whole system of code words. Palin's resignation speech was littered with them, and while if you tried to parse what she said to try to make sense of her gibberish you came up scratching your head, there were plenty of her true believers who got it (it's the liberals' fault, new way to lead, blah blah blah). Her fans know who is "us" and who is "them".

The lefties have similar codes which are exploited. Bill Clinton was deemed the "first black President" when almost every policy he advanced made things worse for African Americans. I guess that makes Obama our first black Republican President.

I had lunch with a couple of friends last week. One friend, who was excited that Obama had won (hell, I was excited the Obama had won because it meant that McCain had lost), had finally come to the realization that in order to play the game you had to already be in the club.

The study on empathy said that people can expand who they consider inside their group and thus extend empathy to others. If you are white and consider black people "them" you can be retrained, or retrain yourself to feel more empathic towards blacks. Then the mental boundaries break down. One day if the African American you work with complains about something his kid did the white guy realizes that the AA's kid acting just like his kid. If this white man bases his feelings on African Americans through a filter that sees African American culture and people as different and wrong, then he can't become empathetic.

That, I would say, is what true liberalism is. When you care about other people getting healthcare instead of just yourself. When you care about the children who are bombed in Iraq, not just the children in your family. When you extend the dignity of humanity to others who don't look or talk like you. That is the essence of true liberalism which is the threat to the greedheads in the ruling class.

The game played over and over is us versus them. And it's incredibly effective. It's all around us.

At July 05, 2009 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you define "true liberalism" that way, Bob?

Liberalism is rooted in JS Mill's "On Liberty." It is libertarian thought without the modern American nutcase paranoia overlay (read: John Birchers, neo-Nazis, laissez-faire greed-heads, anti-immigration troglodytes).

Of course in America today, "liberal" means:

politically correct
show instead of go
superfice instead of substance
symbol rather than achievement

and therefore a modern American liberal finds himself feeling smug because he drives a Prius with an Obama '08 sticker on it. he has made his consumerist "statement" with the Prius (wasteful spending to achieve eco-thrift?) and with the Obama sticker ("I support a Black man for POTUS which means I'm not a savage like you Repukes!").

The symbols triumph, the meaning and substance are discarded.

Clinging to ancient tropes of noble Donkeys isn't improving things. It'll never improve things. There is nothing inherently superior about "liberal" anything. Every supposed accomplishment of American "liberals" I can show to be a ruse or canard. Doubt me? Then step up with your exemplars, and I'll shoot each one with holes.

At July 05, 2009 10:53 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Charles, where do you get off telling me how to define liberalism? You come off here sounding a bit too much like Jonah Goldberg.

I go back to the traditional definitions of "liberal", not what right-wingers want liberal to mean or what politicians who are supposed to be representing liberal ideals are actually doing.

If you allow frauds to redefine words for you then there is no ground to stand on. Words then mean nothing. Try this for "liberal", the common dictionary usage: "generous and broad sympathies"; "favoring reform and progress"; "tolerant of change". Within the context of my post that is what a liberal is. Someone who recognizes the humanity of others not within his immediate social circle, who looks for the betterment of all.

I think from the context of my post that when I said liberal I wasn't speaking about politicians who only give lip service to liberal values.

Maybe you just wanted to start a little fight here, but to dismiss the use of word "liberal" seems to eliminate any need for discussing political thought. Thus, you are practicing a weird self-cancellation of your commentary. If you can't abide the word "liberal" because of its misuse, then come up with another better word. Be warned, though. Any word you choose will be warped by your political enemies. And then we can just sit around and complain that we don't have any words left to us because we let our enemies snatch them out of our mouths.


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