30 January 2019

I can't say I really agree with anything Ben Studebaker advocates in the real world, but I'm still reading him, maybe solely because it amuses me to read an American PhD student in England write about American politics.  Sentences like these are produced:

It is long past time that we started taking our queues [emphasis added] from the workers who vote in those key Midwestern states, the ones that voted for Obama and then flipped to Trump.

But to respond to the argument:  Ah yes, the Obama-Trump voters who litter every medium-sized town in the Midwest like cast-off car parts, the voters that Wisconsin's Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, dismissed as infertile ground.  No wonder he failed ... clearly, this political naif must be taught a lesson!

There is a certain kind of purity politics on the left I have seen a lot of in my 37 years, and Studebaker seems to partake of it.  I understand its appeal:  hearing candidates who speak your language without reservation or apology is hard to beat for a political ego boost.   The problem is much amplified, though, when you get a degree or two and read some E.P. Thompson and Noam Chomsky.  Soon you're thinking that anybody who was once (GASP) a district attorney, like Kamala Harris*, is forever captive to a carceral system and an enemy of working-class children everywhere.  You find yourself gravitating strongly to old straight white male candidates, because they're the ones who talk about your issues the right way.  There are always reasons to discount the other candidates.  The "real workers" wouldn't like them anyway.

Taken to extremes, this desire for purity will result in you withdrawing from the political process altogether, sitting alone in your coffee shop of choice, hunched over your laptop with its DON'T VOTE sticker clearly visible to all around you (yes, I really saw a disheveled-looking white man like this recently).  The siren call of embittered anarchism is the only thing that penetrates those jaded ears.

My serious response to Mr. Studebaker is this:  people are not categories.  They often vote without regard to their economic interests, and good for them!  If everyone did vote their "pure interests," based on some Bentham-like calculation of tax rate and minimum wage "utils" or what have you, rich people would have been eliminated a long time ago and we wouldn't even have a socialist movement to argue about.  (People like me who work to facilitate voting would also have a hell of a time trying to feed people all the numbers they need to make those calculations.)

Yes, it is painful to see homeless families existing in a country as rich as ours.  (Consider homeless families in the MIDST OF THE POLAR VORTEX the next time you want to make a political point from their lives.)  But telling the parents in those families that you need to vote for the old guy from Vermont, and by the way, that DA Harris who prosecuted you is BAD, is not gonna remedy their condition in any substantive way.  Electing a president who won't shut down the Department of Housing and Urban Development for months at a time:  that might help.


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