I used to think of myself as a liberal. I remember canvassing for Alliance for a Better Minnesota during the gubernatorial election of 2006. While being nonpartisan it was widely understood that we supported the Democratic platform and their candidates. I wholeheartedly believed in the liberal base of the Democratic Party and the possibility of change coming from them. I told anyone that would listen that Keith Ellison and Barack Obama were the future and the future was bright.
Now, seven years later, I am anything but a Democrat. In fact, I have come to believe the primary obstacle to progressive change is the Democratic Party and modern liberalism.
Some will already say I am out of my mind. Ryan, they will say, how can you make such a ludicrous claim when the Tea Party and right-wingers are mounting an offensive? I have to beg to differ. I see their rise, and visibility in the media, as simply a tactic meant to distract the public by perpetuating the conservative vs. liberal dichotomy. The fact of the matter is that progressives win. Dr. King was right when he said the arch of history bends towards justice. The only reason conservatives and right-wingers have any life left in them is because of the failure and underlying anti-progressivism of liberals, specifically middle class white ones, and the Democratic Party.
Modern liberalism’s foundation rests in the belief that our systems and institutions are inherently good. Liberalism concedes that there have been atrocities, but these cannot be laid at the feet of our institutions and must, instead, be attributed to the individuals who perpetuated these heinous acts. The fact that as disparities continue to widen we seem to be increasingly unable to identify these individuals does not faze the modern liberal. This failure to support true progressivism has manifested in the shinning jewel of liberalism: Obamacare. Instead of single-payer universal healthcare the liberal vanguard in America has acquiesced to capitalism’s insatiable need for commodification and has solidified in law millions of dollars in profit for insurance companies. They justified this by blaming conservatives and offered single-payer up as sacrifice on the altar of compromise, but this is disingenuous as most of the country was in favor of single-payer. Liberals are just as subservient to profit and the corroding influence of capitalism as conservatives. Furthermore they understand that conservatives play a key role in allowing them to pursue their economic means while maintaining, if even in their own minds, some morality.
Perhaps it is true that liberals want to see more people, perhaps even everyone, live the prototypical middle class American lifestyle. Perhaps they genuinely despise poverty, racism, sexism, and war. However, because their analysis lacks an institutional critique they are left either consciously or subconsciously colluding with the very systems that give life to every ism we know. Martin Luther King knew this when he penned his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” and we still know it today as evidenced by Peter Buffett’s editorial in The New York Times warning of the ills of the charitable industrial complex (AKA the nonprofit industrial complex). Yet, nowhere is the failure of liberal rhetoric more pronounced and tangible than in its framing race, racism and white privilege.
Got Privilege? So what…
“So long as you think of yourself as white, there is no hope for you”- James Baldwin
The limits of the liberal discourse around race are maddening. Because liberals believe in the inherent goodness of our American institutions they discuss racism in terms that do not address the fundamental issue which created it: whiteness. Some liberals will even go as far as acknowledging white privilege, but this is where the uselessness of their analysis becomes painfully obvious: they cannot move beyond privilege to actually offer any solutions, leaving liberals across this country to drown in the quicksand that is white guilt. To liberals the way to end racism is to pull everyone up within our current capitalistic economy and its institutions: to be fair. They do not possess the analysis required to understand those very institutions are the problem; they are the standing monuments to white supremacy. The only way to end racism is to dismantle those very institutions and build replacements based on justice, not simply fairness. They cannot imagine that to identify as white is part and parcel of the problem. This is why the liberal discourse around white privilege fails to resonate with the folks that it should speak to the loudest: poor Europeans. If it weren’t for the failure of liberal rhetoric there would be no Tea Party because a true progressive worldview coupled with progressive policy would certainly appeal to this group. The fact of the matter is, when it comes down to it the core of the Tea Party and the core of the radical progressive left have the same goal: allocating resources differently. It is only the myth of race, and specifically of whiteness, that has kept this powerful coalition from forming, and liberals are certainly okay with that.
The answer lies, then, in progressive and radical politics. It lies in those good folks who identify as liberal, and I believe there are many, shifting their politics to critique the very structures of our society. We cannot be afraid to get to the core of our dysfunction. Liberals must refuse to simply participate in electoral politics, but get involved in the everyday work of building power in local communities and standing in solidarity with every oppressed group. When they do participate in elections they must take this new political consciousness with them into the booth and refuse to choose the lesser of two evils; instead they must cast a vote for candidates that unequivocally stand for the values they espouse. Politics is only a dirty game if we allow it to be. Inequality and injustice will only exist for as long as we allow them to exist. When we shatter the facade of liberalism as the path to justice it frees us to be creative and build with those we might otherwise stand against. This is what they, conservatives and liberals alike, are hoping for. They need us to turn on our TV’s and watch either FOX or MSNBC, we need to choose Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow. We need to be separate so we can be manipulated and siphoned of our power. Liberals are complicit in this plot and the time has come to reject them, and it, outright.
The future is indeed bright.