Slightly more on politics

The other day I laid out a bit of my position on the importance of being self-consciously political, and Amanda Marcotte has a great post on a related issue:

Nowadays, however, the verb “to politicize” is used, 90% of the time, to suggest that politics and government are silly little trifles that shouldn’t be involved when something really serious is on the table. That’s how the word has been used in the past week, by right wingers trying to deflect criticism of their very serious actions by suggesting that this massacre is too serious to involve politics. But you see it a lot, and sadly not just from the right—I’ve seen liberals argue things like health care reform and abortion policy shouldn’t be “politicized”, though literally the only way to leave politics out of it would be to take ourselves out of the game and lose completely. …

The implication is that politics is basically a government-funded sport that has no meaning outside of whose team is winning or losing. And that, just as we cancel sporting events in the wake of major tragedies that make game-playing seem insufficiently somber, we should cancel politics. This view helps the right, and should never be reinforced on the left, even if we can catch the occasional rhetoric advantage in the short term with it. That’s because it’s the right that benefits from the idea that politics is a sideshow created for entertainment, and that actual policy that actually does something sullies the nation.

Look, if there was one message that right wingers have been trying to drill home for decades now, it’s that government cannot ever be considered a legitimate tool with which to solve social problems. Now, the leadership of the Republican party doesn’t believe this. They feel government does and should exist to serve the wealthy. They’re all for courts existing so they can solve their disputes, military to help exploit the resources of other nations, police to protect their property, and central banking that serves the interests of Wall Street against the people. But they know damn well that the issues that tend to capture the public imagination are those that directly affect most of us, and that is where they’d prefer that we imagine government as being nothing more than a taxpayer-funded spectator sport that has no real meaning and should therefore have no real power. …

The results are adequately depressing. As Digby points out today, a CNN poll found that 66% of people believe there is nothing society or government can do to prevent mass shootings. I blame the proliferation of the word “politicization”—at least this specific use of it—and the assumption bundled up in it, which is that politics aren’t the correct tool to use to solve social problems, and that saying otherwise somehow drains problems of their seriousness. Without having access to politics as a tool, we literally do have nothing with which to address this problem. All realistic solutions to prevent mass shootings are political in nature. Just take this case in particular. Jared Loughner had multiple motivating forces and multiple opportunities that led to the shooting, and it’s likely that even removing one element would have prevented it. Better gun control, better mental health services, a public discourse where paranoid and violent rhetoric is shamed, and more feminism so that men are less likely to grow up thinking women are weak and contemptible: if any of these had been in place, there would probably have not been a massacre. These are all political solutions, though, and so if we take politics off the table, we really are helpless. Which is right where the right wing wants us to be—after all, they’re conservatives. By definition, they pretty much oppose all social change and therefore are eager to find ways to banish the possibility of it roughly forever.

Read the whole thing.

[Edited: Stupid typo above removed. I got a cold at ScienceOnline, and I blame the virus for any crappy blogging.]


  1. #1 Egbert
    January 19, 2011

    So should we accommodate violent political rhetoric, since we must respect people’s opinions and beliefs, or do we decry them by speaking out against it?

    I would like to know whether accommodationism also applies to right-wing beliefs and language.

  2. #2 BenSix
    January 19, 2011

    Without having access to politics as a tool, we literally do have nothing with which to address this problem.

    No it isn’t! Unless one needs a state to, say, interrogate one’s attitudes towards other people; make sure kids aren’t influenced to grow up bigoted; build inclusive and at least somewhat respectful communities; watch out for those who’ve been marginalised and don’t seem chuffed with it. I mean, I can’t know, but if Jared Loughner’s family, peers and social groups had behaved differently he might never have sunk into such hatred or, at least, been obstructred in some way. All of this is about what we can get other people to do rather than what we could do ourselves. Wasn’t tha left fond of communitarianism at one point?

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    January 19, 2011

    BenSix: Community action is still politics.