Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You

You may think you are discreet about your political views. But Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has come up with its own determination of your political leanings, based on your activity on the site.

And now, it is easy to find out how Facebook has categorized you — as very liberal or very conservative, or somewhere in between.

Try this (it works best on your desktop computer):

Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)

That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.

Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

(If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.)

Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal.

Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.

Facebook has long been collecting information on its users, but it recently revamped the ad preferences page, making it easier to view.

The information is valuable. Advertisers, including many political campaigns, pay Facebook to show their ads to specific demographic groups. The labels Facebook assigns to its users help campaigns more precisely target a particular audience.

For instance, Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has paid for its ads to be shown to those who Facebook has labeled politically moderate.

Campaigns can also use the groupings to show different messages to different supporters. They may want to show an ad to their hard-core supporters, for example, that is unlike an ad targeted at people just tuning in to the election.

It is not clear how aggressively Facebook is gathering political information on users outside the United States. The social network has 1.7 billion active users, including about 204 million in the United States.

Political outlook is just one of the attributes Facebook compiles on its users. Many of the others are directly commercial: whether you like television comedy shows, video games or Nascar.

To learn more about how political campaigns are targeting voters on social media, The New York Times is collecting Facebook ads from our readers with a project called AdTrack. You can take part by visiting nytimes.com and searching for “Send us the political ads.”

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Listen, your party is the “neo” kind of liberal

Why do the Democrats always disappoint their most loyal supporters? Thomas Frank’s excellent book helps explains the party’s betraying ways, says Lance Selfa.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

THE NEW York Times headline on July 28 said it all: “After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore.”

Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick’s article proceeded to document the myriad ways in which corporations, from the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group to for-profit college giant Apollo Education Group, peddled influence at fancy parties around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

Yes, that Democratic convention. The same one that featured dozens of speakers denouncing Wall Street and crushing student debt? Whose presidential nominee pledged to get big money out of elections?

Turns out that “it’s business as usual,” as Libby Watson of the Sunlight Foundation told the Times writers.

Author Thomas Frank wouldn’t be surprised by this latest glimpse of how the Democratic Party does business. His Listen, Liberal is an engaging and witty demolition of the party, especially its modern post-New Deal incarnation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE DEMOCRATS don’t see it as a contradiction to issue election-year platitudes about supporting “working families” while courting millions from the “rocket scientist” financial engineers behind the Wall Street hedge funds or the self-styled “disrupters” who run for-profit educational corporations.

REVIEW: BOOKS

Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 320 pages, $12.99. Find out more at ListenLiberal.com.

As the GEICO TV ad might say, “It’s what they do.”

To Frank, this provides much of the explanation for why the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment for those who believed in candidate Obama’s message of “hope and change” in 2008.

In 2008, the economy was melting down, taking free-market orthodoxy with it. The Democrats swept to power in Congress and the White House. If there was ever a time that the conditions were ripe for a bold reformist program–which would have been massively popular–this was it.

Yet it didn’t happen. Two years later, the Tea Party Republicans took back the House in the midterm elections, and the administration deepened its commitment to austerity and the search for a “grand bargain” for bipartisan support to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Frank rehearses the standard liberal excuses for Obama’s failures, quoting the president himself about how hard it is to get things done (“It’s hard to turn an ocean liner”). Frank then proceeds to knock these down, one by one.

He shows convincingly how, using only executive action, Obama could have unwound the Bush administration bailouts for the Wall Street bankers and pressed bankruptcy judges to reduce or wipe out the mortgage holders’ debt. At the very least, he could have refused to allow executives from the insurance giant AIG to collect their multimillion-dollar bonuses from the taxpayers’ dime.

Instead, Obama and his Treasury team of Ivy Leaguers on leave from Wall Street reassured the banksters that he was on their side. Frank reprises the critical scene from Ron Suskind’s 2010 book Confidence Men: A description of a high-level meeting that began with Obama warning Wall Street that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks”–and ended with a relieved CEO telling Suskind that Obama “could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t–he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

As Frank concludes:

Having put so much faith in his transformative potential, his followers need to come to terms with how non-transformative he has been. It wasn’t because the ocean liner would have been too hard to turn, or because those silly idealists were unrealistic; it was because [the administration] didn’t want to do those things.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW DID the Democrats come to power amid the worst crisis since the Great Depression and basically operate according to the same-old-same-old model? In trying to explain this, Frank lands on an explanation that is inadequate–more on that below–despite the insights it offers.

To him, the Obama team, like Bill Clinton before him–and probably Hillary Clinton after–couldn’t conceive of a different course because they approached problems from their vantage point as wealthy, highly educated professionals.

Like the whiz kids on Wall Street or health care industry policy wonks, they appreciated complex solutions that balanced multiple interests while generally preserving the status quo. Think of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, whose enforcement regulations are still being written six years after its passage.

The roots of this worship of professional expertise and support for market-based policies, according to Frank, can be found in party operatives’ desire to build a new Democratic coalition to replace the New Deal coalition of the 1930s through the 1960s. From George McGovern’s early 1970s “new politics” to the Democratic Leadership Council’s “new Democrats” of the 1980s and 1990s, these figures sought to distance the party from organized labor in favor of the “new middle class” of credentialed professionals.

Voting statistics show that college graduates still tend to be Republican territory more than Democratic. But there’s little doubt that a middle-class ideology of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism” reigns supreme in the Democratic Party today.

To show this in full bloom, Frank considers the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston as exemplars. Both depend heavily on the “knowledge industries” of higher education, finance and health care. And both have been Democratic bastions for generations.

If the Democratic mayors of Boston and a Democratic-dominated statehouse hand out tax breaks to corporations, enact anti-labor pension “reforms,” and promote charter schools or amenities catering to middle-class professionals, it isn’t because Republicans forced them to. It’s because the Democrats actually believe this stuff, and profit from it.

In this “blue state model,” Frank writes:

Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Left behind are places like Lynn, Massachusetts, a once thriving industrial town, now depopulated and deindustrialized–“engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats,” Frank writes. Or Decatur, Illinois, which Frank revisits 20 years after he had reported on the “War Zone” labor battles that dramatized the death of the American dream for thousands of blue-collar unionized workers

In the mid-1990s, Frank writes:

Decatur was far away from Washington, and its problems made no impression that I could detect on Bill Clinton’s wise brain trust. The New Economy was dawning, creativity was triumphing, old industry was evaporating, and those fortunate enough to be among the ascendant were absolutely certain about the direction history was taking.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS WITH so much about the Democratic Party today, all this somehow works its way back to the Clintons.

Frank’s assessment of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office in the 1990s is a crucial antidote to the free-flowing Clinton nostalgia of 2016. Frank says that while he was writing the book:

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for–you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him– apart from his obvious personal affability, I mean? It proved difficult for my libs…

No one mentioned any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery– he rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office, he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

Frank concedes a few small positive efforts by Clinton: a small increase in taxes on the rich, a failed attempt at health care reform. But the biggest initiatives Clinton won were things that would have been considered Republican policies of an earlier era: the 1994 crime bill that put the “New Jim Crow” described by Michelle Alexander into overdrive; the destruction of the federal welfare system; free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and various forms of financial deregulation.

Frank notes that Clinton was conducting backdoor negotiations with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a scheme to privatize Social Security. That attempt collapsed during the impeachment battle connected to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Frank’s crucial point is this. It took a Democrat–one skilled in the double-talk of “feeling the pain” of ordinary people and bolstering those “who work hard and play by the rules”–to push through a wish list of conservative policies that not even Ronald Reagan could win. As Frank writes:

What distinguishes the political order we live under now is a consensus, at least in the political mainstream, on certain economic questions–and what made that consensus happen was the capitulation of the Democrats. Republicans could denounce big government all they wanted, but it took a Democrat to declare that “the era of big government is over” and to make it stick. This was Bill Clinton’s historic achievement. Under his direction, as I wrote back then, the opposition “ceased to oppose.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

MUCH OF what Frank writes will sound very familiar to regular readers of Socialist Worker. But for liberals who might know Frank from his What’s the Matter with Kansas? or The Wrecking Crew, Listen, Liberal might feel like a bucket of cold water. Especially for those who might be “ready for Hillary” in 2016.

For my money, the entire book is worth the price of the chapter “Liberal Gilt,” where Frank skewers the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and, by extension, what he calls the “liberal class’s virtue quest.”

At the center of this chapter is, of course, Hillary Clinton, whose public persona of “doing good” for “women and children” dissolves against a backdrop of her support for ending welfare in the 1990s and pushing poor women in developing countries into debt through “microcredit.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton marketed global entrepreneurship and the endless “war on terror” as crusades on behalf of women. Through “partnering” on these initiatives with the Clinton Foundation or the State Department, the likes of Walmart and Goldman Sachs can win praise for their social consciousness–or what Frank brilliantly describes as their “purchasing liberalism offsets”:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Frank weaves this analysis around an unforgettable eyewitness account of a Clinton Foundation celebration–held on the socialist holiday of International Women’s Day, no less! The event, at midtown Manhattan’s Best Buy (now Playstation) Theater, touted entrepreneurship for women in the global South. The Clintons, Melinda Gates, Hollywood stars, fashion magazine editors and Fortune 500 leaders came together for an afternoon of self-congratulation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

YET FOR all that is spot-on in Frank’s critique of the Democrats, the book’s analysis is flawed on two interrelated points.

First, its theory of the Democrats as a party of educated professionals suffers from what might be called a crude class analysis.

When Marxists argue that the Democrats and Republicans are “capitalist” parties, we don’t mean that a cabal of capitalists acts as their puppet masters from behind the scenes. We mean that through various means–from political contributions to expert advice to control of the media–various capitalist interests assure that the mainstream political parties implement policies that allow the capitalist system to thrive and reproduce itself.

Scholars such as Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers have documented why we should understand shifts in the mainstream capitalist parties as shifts in blocs of capital rather than shifts in voting bases. Ferguson has even demonstrated how Obama’s support from Silicon Valley is linked to the administration’s care and nurturance of the surveillance state.

Frank doesn’t cite any of this analysis. Thus, in arguing that the Democrats’ current embrace of Silicon Valley neoliberalism is somehow a product of “well-graduated” Democrats’ fascination with “complexity,” “innovation” and “disruptive” app-driven services like Uber and AirBnB, Frank misses the close integration of the Democratic Party with the capitalist class.

The Democrats may have been capitalism’s B-Team over the last generation, but they’re not the Washington Generals, forever bested by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Second, understanding the Democrats as a party of Ivy League professionals–and not as one of the two big business parties in the U.S.–implies that it can be reclaimed as the “party of the people” or the party of the “working class,” as Frank believes it was in its New Deal heyday.

This characterization forgets that, in many ways, the Democrats were capitalism’s A-Team during that period. And if the Trumpization of the Republicans continues, the Democrats may end up as the first-stringers again. The 2016 Clinton campaign certainly hopes so.

Listen, Liberal is a great read for this election season. While Frank concludes that the state of affairs that brought us to Clinton against Trump “cannot go on,” he’s not sure where to go. Charting that course is a challenge the left faces today.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/08/04/your-party-is-the-neo-kind-of-liberal

Bill Clinton’s Five Major Achievements Were Longstanding GOP Objectives

Sunday, 15 May 2016 00:00

Truthout | Interview with Thomas Frank: 

Bill Clinton, standing between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, taking the oath of office of President of the United States on January 20, 1993. Clinton ran for president as a champion of the working class, but largely abandoned their economic interests while in office – preferring Wall Street to Main Street -- beginning with his signing of NAFTA.

Bill Clinton, standing between Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, taking the oath of office of president of the United States on January 20, 1993. Clinton ran for president as a champion of the working class, but largely abandoned their economic interests while in office – preferring Wall Street to Main Street — beginning with his signing of NAFTA. (Photo: White House)

What is the core philosophy of today’s Democratic Party and does it serve anyone’s interests other than a wealthy elite? Thomas Frank lays bare Democrats’ abandonment of their purported values — and the role this has played in entrenching economic inequality — in his sardonic new book, Listen, Liberal. Order your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!

Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, discusses the Hillary Doctrine’s basis in neoliberalism, how the Democratic Party stopped governing on behalf of the working class and how President Bill Clinton’s major achievements actually enacted conservative goals, and ultimately hurt working people.

Mark Karlin: The innovation class, the creative class, the wealthy class, the professional class with Ivy League degrees: How did President Obama become the avatar for believing these groups should be the decision makers in government?

Thomas Frank: Obama thinks such people should be in charge because they came up through the same system as him. “Because he himself was a product of the great American postwar meritocracy,” his biographer Jonathan Alter writes, “he could never fully escape seeing the world from the status ladder he had ascended.”

Most of our other Democratic leaders (the Clintons, for example) came up the same way and believe the same thing. Indeed, what Alter describes is standard-issue stuff for Democrats these days. The Democrats are a class party in the fullest sense of the phrase, and the class whose perspective they reflect and whose interests they serve is the highly educated, white-collar professional class. Theirs is a liberalism of the rich.

Can you describe a little about what you call “The Hillary Doctrine,” including how microlending is a good example of her belief in opening doors of entrepreneurship to solve the world’s economic problems?

The Hillary Doctrine was Clinton’s understanding of American national interest when she served as Obama’s secretary of state. The idea was that the US would henceforth be the world’s defender of women and girls. Hillary didn’t mean this in a general sense, however. The kind of women we were committing ourselves to specifically were female entrepreneurs.

The source of this notion of liberation through female entrepreneurship is the microlending movement, in which Hillary has been an enthusiastic participant for many decades. It arose as part of neoliberalism in the 1990s: The IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank would “structurally reform” a country’s economy, and to help out with the human dislocation that resulted, they would give microloans to small entrepreneurs, who were encouraged to start tiny businesses like gardening or handicrafts. Over the years, the microlending movement accreted all these details: The entrepreneurs had to be women. They had to be hooked up to a bank. They had to have a Western mentor. They had to have smartphones. And so on.

You can see the appeal of this movement: It’s telling you that the solution to poverty is not unions or government or anything like that, but for everyone to work hard and start their own businesses — and, incidentally, to extend the reach of Western financial institutions to every village on the planet. A pure win-win. Everyone feels good. Everyone feels virtuous.

Except for the people who live in those countries, of course, because they know it doesn’t work. You don’t build a country’s economy by having everyone buy a goat and sell milk to one another. All these people have to show for this strategy is debt. Some empowerment.

I was captivated by your description of Hillary Clinton being surrounded by a “microclimate of virtue.” Can you describe what you mean by that and how it was represented in your section, “No Ceilings,” that included Melinda Gates and a panel to show how much women in power “cared” for poor women? I love your sardonic description, “the presenters called out to one another in tones of gracious supportiveness and flattery so sweet it bordered on idolatry.”

Every biography of Hillary Clinton talks about her goodness, her high-mindedness, her rock-solid dedication to principle. Reading those books, I couldn’t imagine what they meant, since Hillary is as much of a shape-shifter and a compromiser as any other politician.

When I saw her in person, however, it all made sense. It was at a Clinton Foundation event, as you mention. Everyone took their turn on the stage, praising everyone else, in the highest and most gracious forms you can imagine. There was an almost intoxicating sense in the room of the goodness and virtue of everyone present, with Hillary herself anchoring the swirl. It must be hard for someone who wasn’t there to believe, but these people seemed to regard her with an idealism that was almost cult-like.

The exaggeration of it all showed me that this sense of virtue is not only central to Hillary Clinton’s appeal, but to liberalism generally. This is a movement that has done tremendous harm to minorities and working people over the last few decades, and yet liberals have such an elevated sense of what fine people they are. It is a precious self-image.

You trace the modern abandonment of working men and women by the Democrats to a book by Fred Dutton in 1971. Can you explain the tome and its implications?

Dutton was a high-ranking Democratic Party official who later became a prominent Washington lobbyist. Among other things, he served on the McGovern Commission, which worked to reorient the Democratic Party away from labor and working people. Dutton’s book was called Changing Sources of Power, and it was sort of an explanation of why the McGovern Commission did what it did. Basically, Dutton was one of those establishment people who were simply bowled over by the sheer righteousness of the youth movements of the 1960s — something I also found a lot of in the advertising industry in my first book, The Conquest of Cool. The kids were so wise and so profound, Dutton thought. They had brought politics to a whole new philosophical level. And, meanwhile, as everyone could see, working people were so backward and so ugly, supporting the Vietnam War and all that stuff. Of course you wanted to ditch one group and embrace the other.

Given what was going on back then, it’s easy to understand why Dutton felt as he did. He wasn’t totally wrong about blue-collar workers and the Vietnam War, for instance. But turning your back on the concerns of working-class organizations for whatever reason meant turning your back on their issues, with consequences that are all too clear today.

You argue the abandonment of labor by the Democrats came to full fruition in the two administrations of Bill Clinton? How did Clinton who came from a working-class upbringing eventually betray the workers of the United States?

First of all, I’m not so sure about his background. It is true that he came from a very poor state, and that his family struggled, but Clinton’s biographers always emphasize that he wasn’t really of the working class: He always drove a new Buick, etc.

Clinton never had a really great relationship with workers’ organizations, but the worst thing Clinton he did to them was NAFTA. There were many trade agreements, of course, but NAFTA was the one that mattered, both because it was the first one and because labor put everything into stopping it. Indeed labor had stopped it when George H. W. Bush tried to get it through Congress. Clinton got it done, however, with a little muscle and a vast fog of preposterous claims about how NAFTA would increase exports and manufacturing employment.

His admirers saw NAFTA as his “finest hour,” because he had stood up to a traditional Democratic constituency. What an achievement. NAFTA handed employers all over America the ultimate weapon against workers: They could now credibly threaten to pick up and leave at the slightest show of worker backbone — and they make such threats all the time now.

How did the Clinton administration become a surrogate of Wall Street, resulting in the far-reaching repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act?

In 1992, Clinton ran as a populist, deploring income inequality, but that was just an act. As president he seems immediately to have decided to cast his fortunes — and those of his party — with Wall Street. Bank deregulation was a persistent policy of his from the very beginning — he signed the Riegle-Neal Act in 1994, for example, and the Mexican bailout (a big favor to Wall Street) came shortly thereafter. Along the way, he helped bail out a too-big-to-fail hedge fund, he twice appointed Alan Greenspan to run the Federal Reserve and he ensured that certain derivative securities would not have any kind of federal supervision at all.

At the time, Clinton’s admirers thought this record was something to boast about. He had brought his party out of the Rooseveltian dark ages and had embraced modernity, etc.

Why did he do it? My explanation is simple class identification. Clinton’s real class story has to do with his career in college and graduate school, where he became a star of the rising professional cohort. People with this kind of background saw (and still see) Wall Street as a part of the enlightened world, a part of the world inhabited by people just like them. They’re so smart! Plucking wealth from thin air!

This is a little off message regarding the book, but can you speculate why the Republicans were so obsessed with removing Clinton from office when he was fulfilling so much of the GOP agenda, including negotiating with Newt Gingrich about cutting Medicare and Social Security?

“Fulfilling so much of the GOP agenda”: That is a point worth reiterating. Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of them — every single one — were longstanding Republican objectives. His smaller achievements were more traditionally Democratic (he raised the earned-income tax credit and the minimum wage), but his big accomplishments all enacted conservative wishes, and then all of them ended in disaster.

So why did the right try so hard to get rid of him? For one thing, because they always do that. They never suspend the war or stop pushing rightward. There is no point at which they say, “OK, we’ve won enough.” For another, because Gingrich couldn’t control the rank and file, a problem that persists to this day.

The final conservative consequence of the impeachment, although this one was surely not intended: impeaching Clinton made him a martyr and hence a hero to Democrats. It secured his family’s and his faction’s grip on the Democratic Party apparently forever.

You write in your last chapter: “And every two years, they [the Democrats] simply assume that being non-Republican is sufficient to rally the voters of the nation to their standard.” That sure sounds to me a bit like Hillary Clinton’s basic pitch (paraphrased): “I’m not going to get a lot done because that’s reality, but I’ll be sitting in the Oval Office instead of that demagogue Trump. So vote for me.” Any resonance there?

That is exactly how I meant it, although of course I couldn’t see that Trump was going to be the GOP nominee when I was writing the book.

Is the Acela Express the main transportation route between lawmakers, regulators, lobbyists and financiers?

The Acela runs between Washington and New York just a little bit faster than the ordinary Amtrak train. It costs much, much more, however. Because once you’re on that Acela train, you’re instantly in the secured precincts of the tidy and prosperous professional class. All these nicely dressed people typing away on their keyboards. People looking over spreadsheets. People reading management books and talking management talk. People flattering each other. People shushing each other in the quiet car. Shushing each other so vehemently I once saw a quiet car dispute almost turn into a fistfight. It is literally the express train of the class war. Every sort of narcissism and upper-class social pathology is on full display.

A few weeks ago on the Acela train, I sat near a man who seemed to be some sort of Hillary Clinton adviser. He was talking very loudly on his cellphone about her latest TV commercial, about how she was finding her own voice, which sounds banal but which I guess is a good thing to do if you want to be president of the United States.

When you end with a rather pessimistic notion that the betrayal of the Democrats in power will not easily change, you state “that the problem is us.” Who are you referring to as “us”? Liberals? How does the Bernie Sanders movement that came near to toppling Clinton Inc. fit into your answer?

“The problem is us” in the sense that liberalism is dominated by a certain class outlook and that I am part of that class. I am calling on other members of that class to look in the mirror and understand who they are — that they are just as much products of their economic position as are the blue-collar workers they so hate. In particular, I am calling on them to understand that they aren’t the fine and virtuous people they believe they are. That it is because of them that inequality is out of control, that Wall Street is wrecking the world, that middle-class America is falling apart. And that they have an obligation to do something about it.

I like to think that Bernie is saying the same thing, in his own way.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed “war on drugs” to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout’s Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

 

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36035-thomas-frank-bill-clinton-s-five-major-achievements-were-longstanding-gop-objectives

It’s Time for the Left to Abandon Liberalism Once and For All

As the Democratic Party, now with two massive figureheads, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, begins to fracture as the battle over what direction the party should move wages on, we are starting to see two very different camps use the same word: liberal.

This poses a problem as to what a liberal is, and this is addressed by Danny Katch in his book Socialism … Seriously, in which he points out that, “Millions of people find themselves classified as liberals by default, ranging from those who march against banks and bombs to those who bail out the former and drop the latter. That’s not a very useful category.” He points out that in today’s politics, a liberal is basically anyone who isn’t a Republican.

As the party splinter begins to widen, the term liberal is no longer going to suit the leftists who align more on Sanders side, or even further. For socialists, this has meant abandoning the term altogether. One reason is, as Katch argues is that while “Liberalism can agree with socialism that some things about capitalism should be reformed, and socialists often work alongside liberals to win those changes. Where we differ is that liberalism views reforms as ways to preserve capitalism while socialism sees them as steps toward replacing it.”

While not everyone will default to the position of socialism as they abandon the liberal ideology of saving capitalism, it does seem to be the most viable alternative at this point in time. Liberals in general, as Katch highlights, have done nothing but mock the Republican platform but for many years have failed to offer solutions. We see this today as Hillary Clinton takes the presumptive position for the Democratic Party is offering herself up as merely the alternative to a seemingly xenophobic and racist Donald Trump. Clinton has campaigned solely on offering more of the same of the last eight years of President Obama, doing little to nothing to offer fresh ideas or solutions.

All the while, Sanders has put forth much more radical ideas, albeit, within the confines of the capitalist system, he is breaking the mold and putting forth ideas that upset the status quo. This is a move many believe has cost him the nomination, he was unwilling to play part in the Democratic strategy of winning on the coattails of President Obama, yet if he succeeds the nomination come July, he is expected to fall in line and support Clinton, making himself another cog in slowly turning wheels of the Democratic Party.

The Green Party’s Jill Stein, a self-proclaimed liberal, is putting forward ideas that seem to upset the capitalist machine but does fail to speak out in favor of a real alternative such as socialism. Her campaign does a great job of highlighting that capitalism won’t fix our problems, but for whatever reason fail to take up the platform that to win the battle for green energy or to win the fight for equal pay, higher minimum wage, and all the other radical ideas she is putting forward, we must first abandon and replace capitalism.

While her language is guarded, it would make the most sense to stop referring to her, and those like her, those who are not interested in putting Band-Aids on capitalism, as liberals and instead take up a moniker of leftist, or if the shoe fits, socialist. Liberalism has been one of the great failures of the past century, failing to solve the world’s biggest issues and even issues directly inside the United States. Liberalism had to rely on the Supreme Court to enact same-sex marriage rights, liberalism has failed to provide healthcare to every single American, and it has failed to protect racial minorities from rampant racism and discrimination.

The liberal idea that progress should be made in incremental steps has left too many bodies in its ever so slow moving wake. It is time to take the left’s revolutionary ideals to the masses and not wait for a petty minority of conservatives and centrist Democrats to catch up.

As both the Democratic and Republican Parties splinter and burn in the aftermath of the 2016 primaries, it’s time for political action groups to rise from the ashes, to put forth new ideas and to once and for all stop playing the two-party game that has held us captive for so long.

While Clinton and her supporters are correct in saying she is a better choice that Trump, a vote for Clinton offers no forward progress and leaves us with four to eight years of stagnation. For those living in poverty, those locked up in for-profit prisons for non-violent drug offenses, to those who are sick and still cannot afford to see a doctor, that stagnation is too much to bear.

It is time for leftists to speak up and abandon liberalism and to rise up to the challenge of putting forth new ideas. A true opportunity for change has presented itself and the future of progress hinges on how we move forward.

Dan Arel is a political writer and social activist. He is the author of Parenting Without God and the upcoming book, The Secular Activist.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/11/its-time-for-the-left-to-abandon-liberalism-once-and-for-all/

What’s at the Heart of Right-Wing Outrage Culture?

 An Unshaking Belief in an Ultimate Truth

Conservatives are more likely to feel that their values reflect an ultimate Truth.
 

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

The following is an excerpt from the new bookOn Purposeby Paul Froese (Oxford University Press, 2016): 

Politics deals with the hard truths of life. To carry through a policy agenda, a politician requires popular support, yet the intricacies of policy tend to be highly detailed, complex, and—frankly—boring. A political leader needs to appeal to voters through rhetoric, metaphor, and narrative; he needs to get a crowd excited about social change. This aspect of politics has less to do with the truth of policy and everything to do with emotional resonance. In the best-case scenario, the politician finds a deeply held Truth and links it to his platform, making the messiness of politics appear simple and the purpose of government clear.

Politics is emotional because it directly affects people’s lives; it determines who gets what opportunities and what behaviors get rewarded. The emotions of politics stem not only from how policies impact our individual lives but also from our attachment to specific visions of a just and good society. For this reason, political rhetoric draws on what people find meaningful in life; it taps into popular conceptions of moral Truth. In turn, political rhetoric can shape how individuals understand their position in society and the purpose of the nation.

President Obama won his first presidential bid on a vision of “hope.” Hope is an emotional state, the opposite of despair, but it is not a policy platform or even a political ideology. Obama explained his vision this way:

“I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

For Obama, hope is not “wishful idealism” but rather an informed rejection of fatalism. It is the hope of a pragmatist as opposed to a dreamer.

This alters a particular stereotype of what it means to be a liberal. Namely, the liberal is supposed to be the bleeding-heart idealist who wistfully dreams about an equal and just society, while the conservative is supposedly the hard-nosed pragmatist concerned with class and party loyalty. President Bill Clinton summarized this stereotype when he said that “Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans want to fall in line.” While many Democrats fell in love with Obama, the president’s style and rhetoric leans toward pragmatism over romanticism.

President Obama’s pragmatism reflects different liberal and conservative stereotypes. From this perspective, the liberal is the nerdy academic more interested in spreadsheets than lofty ideals, while the conservative has deep moral and social values that guide his decision-making. William F. Buckley summarized this perspective, saying, “Conservatism aims to maintain in working order the loyalties of the community to perceived truths … which in their judgment have earned universal recognition.”

While stereotypes of liberals and conservatives will always fall short of reality, Americans who self-identify as conservative are much more likely to believe in an ultimate Truth (see Figure 5.3). Researchers have longer theorized about the fundamental differences in liberal and conservative moral perspectives, but these data suggest that conservatives tend to view their moral beliefs as worthy of “universal recognition,” as Buckley has said. In other words, both liberals and conservatives have strong values, but conservatives are more likely to feel that their values reflect an ultimate Truth.

This finding might simply reflect the fact that conservatives are, on average, more religious. For instance, high-tension religious people are more likely to vote Republican and believe in Truth. But even after controlling for religious tradition, level of religiosity, and education, conservatives are still more likely to believe in Truth. This means that there is something about conservative culture and ideology that is more closely aligned with absolute moral Truth.

The Left has also been criticized for moral absolutism. The communist, as critiqued by George Orwell, was the epitome of moral certitude and blind ideology. Liberals certainly are more invested in Truth when they strongly identify with the Democratic Party (see Figure 5.4). Yet in the United States today, Truth appears to be mainly the domain of the GOP.

After spending decades studying ideological trends in American politics, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute concluded:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Of course, Mann and Ornstein are denounced as partisans themselves. But their reputations as honest analysts of American politics indicate that there is much more to what they say than simple bias.

Conservative Truth reflects the deep cultural underpinnings of American political identity. Political labels have become cultural identifiers passed from generation to generation just like ethnic pride and reverence for family tradition. In fact, policy preferences may actually be secondary to political identity. Our political identity is reflected in how we dress, what we eat, and what kinds of television shows we watch. James Hunter’s use of the phrase “culture war” is apt. Political divisions reflect not just policy preferences but entire lifestyles.

A predilection for Truth attracts many conservatives to what Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj call “the outrage industry.” Celebrity political pundits have created media empires based almost entirely on the expression of political rage. Berry and Sobieraj explain:

“Outrage discourse involves efforts to provoke emotional responses (e.g. anger, fear, moral indignation) from the audience through the use of overgeneralizations, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks, and belittling ridicule of opponents.”

Sound familiar? Cable television and talk radio are overrun with outrage discourse. It is emotionally and morally satisfying for listeners to share in the righteous indignation of their pundit of choice. Righteousness confirms the goodness of self; it affirms that our choices and preferences are morally superior to everyone else’s. In fact, neuroscientists find that feelings of rage can stimulate the brain in ways similar to feelings of romantic love. Outrage excites, focuses, and gives us direction.

In the end, outrage discourse provides an emotional charge to one’s moral identity. While there is a vast and ever-expanding outrage industry, no one embodies the essence of this phenomenon like Rush Limbaugh. He didn’t invent outrage discourse, but he is one of its most talented practitioners.

Limbaugh listeners are a near-homogeneous demographic group. They are middle-aged and middle-income white men who believe in Truth. They collectively feel the sting of a historical paradox—they have been taught to be proud and commanding men, yet lack the political and economic power they think they deserve. Theirs is a frustrated, entitled masculinity, and Limbaugh is their moral beacon.

Limbaugh rarely offers a coherent argument, but he does offer Truth. After the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act, Limbaugh asserted that the uninsured are mainly rich college kids who don’t want insurance anyway. He claims that Justice Ginsburg prefers European rule of law over the American Constitution, and he blames this debacle on “academics” “who all wear Che Guevara t-shirts.” No part of this rant is rooted in logical truth. Instead, it boldly asserts a moral Truth.

At root, Limbaugh’s Truth is the faith that his rage and frustration, and that of his followers, emerge from a sacred moral purpose—the duty to defend an imagined “perfect America.” The idea that personal emotions mirror a larger moral struggle is one of the most common forms of Truth. Limbaugh’s True emotions define how a True American should feel—he should feel like a “Dittohead.”

That’s right, Limbaugh listeners proudly refer to themselves as Dittoheads. Critics of Limbaugh’s show wondered how Limbaugh’s listeners could passively accept his ranting at face value. Weren’t they just mindless rubes? In typical fashion, Limbaugh thumbed his nose at his critics and proudly invented the “Dittohead Nation.” What the critics saw as ignorance, Limbaugh reframed as loyalty, patriotism, and emotional solidarity. You can even purchase Dittohead T-shirts and bumper stickers on Limbaugh’s website.

In this way, the Dittohead Nation resembles biblical literalism. High-tension religious groups instill Truth by forging close emotional bonds. These attachments enhance the confidence that one’s emotions reflect a grander Truth. The outrage industry creates similar bonds, but these attachments are not as personal. Rather, they rely on cultural compatibility. Limbaugh’s persona, style, and language feel familiar to his listeners; this familiarity bonds his nation of Dittoheads together. As a virtual nation, Limbaugh’s audience will never be as dedicated as members in a tight-knit religious group, but the Dittohead Nation still offers a sense of moral belonging and meaning. Limbaugh’s Truth was never premised on facts but rather the strong feeling his listeners have that they are like him—united by their shared outrage.

The outrage industry is also premised on identifying moral outsiders. This requires pundits to promote broad stereotypes that clearly distinguish good guys from bad. Limbaugh’s monologue is a ritual refrain of these stories and identities, solidifying in the minds of his listeners that they wear the white hats and have much to fear from their scheming enemies. Limbaugh consoles his listeners with the idea that their frustration is warranted and their anger should be directed at the perpetrators of America’s decline. They are easy to recognize—they are “terrorists,” “liberals,” “elites,” “femi-nazis,” “socialists,” “intellectuals,” “Democrats,” and “people who don’t want to work for a living.” For Limbaugh, these people are guided by impure thoughts—impure because they question his emotional Truth and that of his listeners.

Still, Truth in politics does not necessarily lead to outrage. Deep emotional connections to ideals of freedom, justice, and equality can motivate individuals to selflessly work to help others. How Truth is framed and from what emotional tendencies it draws determine its political consequences.

 

http://www.alternet.org/books/whats-heart-right-wing-outrage-culture-unshaking-belief-ultimate-truth?akid=14024.265072.KWO3Dm&rd=1&src=newsletter1051739&t=26