The Conservative-Liberal Divide as a Red Herring


So last weekend, I read a blog post about rabid partisanship. I critiqued the article on the basis that it produced the very partisanship that it sought out to critique. Then my friends and I fought over it, reproducing the very partisanship that we (liberals and conservative, and perhaps I as the sole libertarian socialist) seek to argue against. But I thought about it for a week and have come back to the article with the main reasons why I think that rabid partisanship is always a red herring. How it is reproduced by the media and educational institutions but how this doesn’t necessarily point to the inherent liberalism of these institutions (thus reproducing the partisanship). Rather, it points to the neoliberal policies and ideologies that have slowly taken hold of our society in the past 40 years and it is an ideology that most Democrats and Republicans embrace.

As a point, I agree that the media and the education sector tend to enforce the rabid partisanship in our country. However, these institutions are heavily influenced by corporate ideals and policies because not only is the media run by corporations, thus compromising their supposedly objective reporting, but colleges and universities are for-profit institutions that are out to secure business. In other words, they’re business friendly and their pursuit of knowledge is thus compromised. Rabid partisanship appears to me to be a red herring and more than anything it appears to be socially manufactured because both the Democratic and Republican parties advocate this kind of corporatizing of our culture and politics.

A good example is the current debate about whether oil companies should receive tax subsidies. President Obama favored cutting off these subsidies because these companies made millions in profits last year. That is, they don’t need the corporate welfare of the state in order to survive in the free market. Republican, on the other hand, argued for continuing the corporate welfare of these companies, advocating an inherently protectionist or interventionist approach to the market. On this issue, the parties switched: Obama supported a free market measure where Republicans advocated a position that was inherently interventionist (and thus in their own parlance, big government). No one has really noted this change whatsoever. It makes sense, however. It’s like 1984, where Republicans advocated Keynsian growth while Democrats advocated for fiscal conservatism. If both parties are dominated by business interests, then it is just a means of revealing the shifting business interests and needs. This is why I think that the liberal-conservative divide is a red herring because it means we don’t notice the ways in which our party system is united.

To reinforce the point, the term liberal tends to be synonymous with Democrat in our society because the term conservative tends to be synonymous with the Republican party. This ideological nomenclature is quite misleading, however. If one looks at the dominant platform of the Democratic party, they look like moderate Republicans of 30 to 40 years ago. Rachel Maddow, for instance, is one of these so-called moderate Republicans. My parents, in another instance, are moderate Republicans who were ousted from their party because its increasing move to the Right. So my parents look like Democrats and tend to vote Democrat. What this has reveals is a shift in thinking. The term liberal cannot really apply to a leading number of notable Democrats in the contemporary. This is the same for the term conservative, as well. Perhaps the most notable conservative is Barry Goldwater, who was pretty much what might amount to as a libertarian. At the same time, the people who hijacked his ideals were not really conservatives themselves. Most Republicans today do advocate for government intervention all the time, but it is welfare for the corporate sector and redistribution of money upwards. These people are statist and it is misleading to call them conservative. Like Noam Chomsky, I don’t believe real conservatives really exist in the United States or else they would be more adamant in challenging the forms of state authority that most Republicans tend to accept. In the end, “liberal” and “conservative” are simulacra, terms with almost no referent in real life.

Reproduction of the liberal-conservative divide, thus, is a rather misleading trope. Both dominant parties in the United States tend to promote neoliberal policies and ideology. Thus, it might be apt to speak of a neoliberal coalition of Democrats and Republicans. Of course, we cannot because it would mean that the very forms of economic life advocated by Republicans, has led to the necessity of same-sex marriage, for instance. It means that we have to talk about the fact that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are influenced by a sense of urgency in our society: the basic quality of life in this country has dropped in the last 30 years. It means having to talk about why a public option for health care is always tabled by both Democrats and Republicans. It also means having to explain why the private sector always talks about how ineffective the public sector is, but when politicians offer public options to anything (like health care or the post office), the private sector opines that it will never be able to complete. People are working harder and longer hours while wages have stagnated. No one wants to address this issue because it means revealing that both parties have contributed to this decline in our economic life. I think that these are things that we ought to be critiquing and talking about, rather than the blame game.

Perhaps this is a good starting point?


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