The Democrats are broken. In a political atmosphere where negative campaigning is king and voter turnout is approaching all-time lows as a result, the word “liberal” in the United States feels about as empty as the ballot boxes are. Despite the overwhelming majority of Americans disapproving of the job that Congress is doing, incumbency is still alarmingly high in both state and national legislatures. Republicans, despite in recent years receiving heavy criticism across the United States for running on platforms aimed at obstructing legislation, are set to gain majorities in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Although it’s easy to blame an array of different causes, the truth is in the numbers. It’s expected that fewer than 40% of eligible voters participated in the midterms this year and those that cast their ballots are largely white, male, and greying. Why is this? The answer to America’s liberals: This is mostly your fault. You didn’t show up.
While Republicans will insist that this election is evidence that the country does not approve of the Obama administration (despite America electing Obama twice) low voter turnout suggests that November’s election results are not the result of reinvigorated Republicans, but rather absentee Democrats. And while Republicans are obviously the main culprits behind obstructing legislation during the Obama presidency, that alone does not explain the failures of the federal government in the last six years. The true blame is on all American liberals.
America’s most left citizens have an utterly destructive habit of proudly calling themselves “disillusioned” with politics. This is often elaborated on with sob story after sob story about their disappointment with government when Obama started deploying drones and cozying up to Wall Street instead of walking on water to address the world’s problems. For too many educated and politically left U.S. citizens, evidence of government’s corrupting effect in recent years has not sounded a call to civic action, but instead has served as an excuse to not participate in the political process.
This has left a vacuum that is being filled ever more by ultra right voters who don’t even reflect the values of many of the Republicans they claim to be connected to. And while the words, actions, and votes of many ultra right leaders and tea party members are blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, unscientific, and embarrassingly pro corporate, where were the liberal voices to counter them? The liberal electorate, at least, was somewhere else, fretting about nuanced social class fluff such as maintaining political correctness, expressing disappointment that Obama isn’t more liberal, or perhaps discussing their disgust with GMOs and factory farming over some sausage pizza.
Whether it’s Greece’s Golden Dawn or America’s Tea Party, ultra-conservatism has always thrived in times of economic uncertainty. But what is particularly alarming about the United States’ case is that a splintered left is so focused on being above the triviality of the political process in their own country that they have become dangerously apathetic when it comes to voting. Part of this is due to the nature of life’s problems. Liberals proudly seek out complex and logical solutions to the world’s problems rather than pushing conservative dogma.
Trouble arises, however, when liberals cannot align their ideas politically and come together on a single major issue. Much of this is because there are so many different ideas about what specific process should be implemented to solve a given problem, which is what happened with Obamacare. A compromised bill that has been ruthlessly criticized by Republican voters for years has received little liberal defense. Why? Because so many liberals are still too downtrodden that Obamacare was not a European single-payer system. So what do many surprisingly informed people do? They disengage. Any politically left person who considers themselves “disillusioned” needs to shake this teenage attitude off and reenter the world of civic participation. Don’t call yourself a progressive if you are not even committed to progress.
And while president Obama has proven very moderate by U.S. standards, he has little choice but to do so with the utter lack of support he has received from his own party. Democratic politicians, ever desperate to seize the middle, are as much to blame for November’s defeat as the liberal citizenry who didn’t support them. And while there are many transparent, thoughtful and balanced Democratic legislators in the federal government, there remain far too many that build much of their voting base off taking neoliberal, formerly Republican policies and making them Democratic ones. This is done by supporting heavy deregulation, cutting funding to public institutions, and breaking up unions — a technique that has surged in popularity among Democratic leaders since the days of the Clinton administration. While such a technique did much to boost Clinton’s political career, it also forced Republicans, who by their very nature need to exist by contrasting Democrats, into ever more conservative mindsets. These mindsets are reflected not just in today’s Congress but also in the trigger-happy religious fanaticism that accompanied the voting base of the Bush administration as well.
In a time when environmental hazards and massive inequality are still ever-worsening issues, it is simply not an option to let apathy seize hold of America’s left. And while much of the right’s success comes from the fact that it’s easier to rally people behind a few simple and destructive ideas rather than around several complex ones (ones that would actually serve as solutions to modern day problems) it remains the responsibility of Democratic leaders as well as liberals of voting age to organize around the basic principles that characterize the American left. That means supporting public institutions, restraining military endeavors, making tangible investments in education, reforming energy policy, updating environmental policy, rebuilding infrastructure and regulating private enterprise.
For any long term success to happen in Washington, there will obviously have to be compromise and cooperation. But none of that can happen if wishy-washy Democratic leaders facilitate an agenda that incentivizes further Republican radicalization, fail to support a Democratic president and ignore the values that an already weary public believes that Democrats should represent. The years after Bush could’ve been glorious for Democrats if they had taken the initiative and stood by their principles instead of having played the Obama blame game just like their rivals did. Recent election results are proof that these tactics have hit their limit. Liberals, and indeed the whole Democratic Party have a lot to change if they wish to get anything done in the coming years.