The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Identity Markers Do Not Make You Left Wing

In Ontario, Canada, Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced that she will privatize Ontario Hydro. This will (I guarantee) result in higher prices for power and a worse safety record, because private investors require more profits than public ones. Because Ontario Hydro does make some money, it will also result in the Ontario government having less income going forward.

Wynne is also allowing beer to be sold in grocery stores, breaking the previous oligopoly held by one private company (for beer only) and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. This will mean less money for the government as well. This is something for which the right has campaigned for ages.

These are both right wing policy initiatives and the Hydro privatization, in particular, is terrible.

Kathleen Wynne belongs to the Liberal party and she is a lesbian.

At the time of the campaign to replace the previous Liberal leader and Premier of Ontario, I pointed out that Wynne was a neoliberal.  She is, in fact, a more extreme neoliberal than the previous leader, McGuinty, who was also terrible.

But, because she is a lesbian, people on the left would not heed my warning.

This is similar to what happened in 2008 in America. Barack Obama is African American. Too many people could not wrap their head around the idea that he was also very right wing, despite how much he praised Ronald Reagan. The guilty white liberals who self-identify with the civil rights movement particularly felt the need for the symbolic victory of a black man in the White House, no matter how bad his policies would be.

The results are in. Obama:

  • Vastly increased drone assassination;
  • Surged in Afghanistan;
  • Attacked Libya;
  • Prosecuted and persecuted whistle blowers more than the last ten Presidencies put together;
  • Oversaw an expansion in which only the top 5% saw any improvement in their income;
  • Oversaw an economy which was more unequal than any since the Gilded Age and worse than Bush Jr’s;
  • And far, far more.

But hey, he’s African American. Who cares about all the people he killed overseas and all the people in America who are in poverty as a result of his venal economic policies?

Now we’re about to repeat this with Hillary Clinton, who wants to be the first woman President. A woman president would be a good thing, symbolically, and so on, but how about having a good president instead?

Simply belonging to a discriminated against minority does not guarantee that a candidate will personally pursue policies which help everyone and which don’t favor the wealthy. The first people to break out of discriminated groups and gain real power are almost always collaborators.

As long as we continue using sexual orientation, skin color, or other identity markers as proxies for solid, left wing policy, we can continue to expect having our livelihoods destroyed.

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Learned Hopelessness About Using Government for Good


John Edwards


  1. It'sAllOver

    Spot on article. The Dems are masters of identity politics. I have a slightly different take. I think the American left love bombing Libya and screwing the poor. They may say they are anti-war, and they may go see the next hauntingly beautiful poverty porn picture, but that’s largely for show as well as self satisfaction. I suspect, that save a few noble souls, the American left are Reaganites who like gays.

  2. mike

    Same thing with Sandra Day O’Connor.

  3. Tom


    It always surprises me several Muslim States elected Female heads of Government only to run afoul of US policy and be overthrown, if they had collaborated they may have had kept power but would have raped their countries and been America’s bitch.


    No wonder people over there side with homegrown dictators, at least they give them economic rights, Western backed dictators don’t and blow them up at will without trial. The home grown dictator holds a trial at least.

  4. You’re right about Obama Ian but the sad truth is there was no alternative. Hillary was and is a right-leaning centrist, a neo-liberal that would have likely done every thing that Obama has and more.

    Had Edwards kept his dick in his pants he would have been the better choice of all the viable candidates in early 2008.

  5. Trixie

    My theory is that if CEOs were to start harvesting the organs of its workers because they’ve run out of the usual ways to profit-farm society, the Left would cheer as long as a random sampling of those organs were demographically representative. Bonus points if you wake up in a bathtub submerged in ice…and you’re gay.

    Meanwhile, the Right is still shrieking about the Marxist Kenyan Socialist Communist occupying the White House…as we enter into the Second Gilded Age.

    These are jokes I used to make re: identity politics. For good reason, I’m not laughing anymore.

  6. I am always disgusted with the media’s casual assumption that identified classes will always mindlessly vote for members of their own class merely because they are members of their own class. Women will, of course, vote for Hillary Clinton, all African-Americans voted for Obama, all Hispanics will vote for Rubio… It may actually be true, in which case we will continue to be, as Ian points out, screwed.

    There may be a worse reason to vote for someone, but offhand I can’t think of one. Well, maybe party affiliation.

  7. Ian Welsh

    The Edwards dick out of pants story came out only AFTER he had dropped out of the primaries. It came out because he then stopped paying her off. It would not have come out had he won the primary because he would have kept paying her off.

    So, no, it isn’t why people didn’t vote for him, or why he wasn’t a good candidate.

    (And, frankly, other than any possible effects on Edwards candidacy, no adult should care. Do you have any idea how much LBJ, Kennedy and JFK screwed around?)

    More to the point, why weren’t there more “viable” left wing candidates? Think carefully about that question and answer, because they are important.

  8. markfromireland

    Well Ian as you yourself have pointed out:

    Liberalism died and is dying because liberals aren’t really liberal, and when they are, they can’t do anything about it.

    Even when they are “liberal” they can’t and won’t do anything about it. That’s because they don’t actually have any integrity, principles, or even beliefs. What they have is attitudes and that is all they have.

    As you’ve also pointed out At some point, about America, one must say: “Most Americans tend to prefer right-wing assholes.”

    I invite you to consider that that’s because most Americans are right-wing assholes and supporters of radical right-wing assholes to boot. If they can be right-wing assholes and at the same time throw their fellow-travellers with liberal attitudes a bone as they cement yet further their grip on the political system what’s not to like? From their point of view it’s win-win.


  9. “Liberalism died and is dying because liberals aren’t really liberal,”

    Liberalism died because liberals don’t prate endlessly about cutting taxes, and people in this nation will not vote for anyone who does not prate endlessly about cutting taxes.

  10. sanctimonious purist

    Kucinich was the left candidate under the big tent–more so than Edwards. Edwards also had some of the same right wing international policies as HRC/BHO. So if you believed him, once Kucinich dropped out, Edwards was best. I never totally believed him though–not because of his sexual dalliances–but because of what seemed like a very sudden lurch to the left. Basically, he was out before he convinced me he was for real. But I see your point about once folks run on a certain platform, even if you believe they won’t try to implement it, at least you have a way to hold their feet to the fire.

  11. FFdd

    Even when they are “liberal” they can’t and won’t do anything about it. That’s because they don’t actually have any integrity, principles, or even beliefs. What they have is attitudes and that is all they have.

    I once read a blog post by someone who met a woman at bar, and after a one-night stand decided to pretend to love her in order to use her for sex. The blogger strung the woman along this way far a year and a half.

    The blogger was a woman.

    Comments fell into two camps: “conservatives” (“gayz are teh ick! booz!”) and “liberals” (“gayz are teh awesome! yayz!”).

    It doesn’t take too much imagination to work out how the above two would have reacted if the blogger had been a man.

  12. FFdd

    “…for a year and…”

  13. BlizzardOfOz

    It seems denouncing “right wing assholes” is popular with some commenters here. There are a lot of phrases in political discourse that are essentially meaningless, but allow for facile dismissal of one’s opponents, and facilitate petty resentments and identity-based hatreds. Does “right wing” have an actual meaning or definition?

    The mass media’s reality-distortion field is a central problem. Whatever your idea of “right wing asshole”, there is a mass-media cottage industry constantly to fuel your outrage.

  14. Jessica

    Ian, you are spot on.

    There is something more to this and I can’t quite pin it down. There is some connection between the substantial progress made on identity politics issues and the substantial retreat on economic politics and on militarization domestically and overseas.

    One factor that makes this possible is that the oligarchs and other elites are pretty much aligned with each other on economic politics but somewhat cancel each other out on identity politics. But that does not explain it all either.

    It has something to do with the split between the knowledge worker strata and the traditional working class and with the hyper-alienated position of the knowledge worker strata. Arrggg. This would be useful to understand.

    By the way, I try to stay away from the Asshole Theory of History. I find that any explanation that boils down to (or starts right out from) Group X is a bunch of assholes provides me with no leverage to try to make anything better. Sometimes such theories may be right, but even then they are not even wrong.

  15. Ian Welsh

    The point about the asshole theory of history is this: “why are these particular types of assholes being selected by this particular society?”

    Answering that question can get you far.


  16. DDff

    There is something more to this and I can’t quite pin it down. There is some connection between the substantial progress made on identity politics issues and the substantial retreat on economic politics and on militarization domestically and overseas.

    I don’t agree that there’s been substantial progress on any but GLBT issues. There’s been rhetorical progress, but substantial retreat, on everything else.

  17. Solar Hero

    Obama is not an African-American. African-Americans are USAmericans of African descent whose ancestors were brough to the USA as slaves. Obama is a Kenyan-American. His wife and children are AAs

  18. Robert L Bell

    The key question here, which received only scant attention, is “where are our candidates?”

    I propose that a part of the answer is that throwing pies at the Democrats is more rewarding in the immediate term than is recruiting good people and providing them with support in the campaign. It’s also a hell of a lot easier, and you never get caught in mistakes for which you have to answer – but which then become learning experiences.

    Just for an example, when the Snowden story broke in 2013 did we capture the wave of grassroots energy and turn it towards electoral victory in 2014? No, no we did not. The whole was pissed away in fruitless bickering amongst ourselves and against the Democrats. This sorry display suggests that we are in no way ready to assume responsibility for policy at any level.

    We need to pull together, fix these deficiencies, and get cracking. It’s not enough to have good ideas and to hold nobles: we have to make them effective.

  19. Robert L Bell

    Typoes: “the whole opportunity” and “to hold noble ideals”

  20. Michael

    Forget not sex: *cough* Margaret Thatcher *cough*

  21. Jill

    In the US, we tend to embrace the same values no matter what gender, sexual orientation, color or class we are in. Elite values run through every segment of society. Those are the values we learn to respect. That is why we get a lot of assholes in power.

    I believe this has to do with massive propaganda and our protestant (Calvinist) religious history. The powerful control the transmission belt. When there are questions, they know how to silence the questioners (see Occupy for example). Many Americans are religious. This takes the form of Calvinism or its updated version, New Ageism. Wealth is the goal as well as the proof of righteousness.

    As a group, we also lack two important qualities that make for strong citizens: 1. critical thinking skills and 2. actual ethical values which are not dependent on whatever is popular that is going around in our society. Thus, we do fail to understand important distinctions such as being a member of a group which is oppressed in the US and being a good person. Every person is an oppressed group is entitled to social justice. They do not have to “earn” justice by being good. It is their right. That is what it means to be in a group which is oppressed– one is lacking justice and this lack of justice often creates terrible crimes against members of that group. What being a member of an oppressed group does not create is “goodness”. Any person in an oppressed group or friends with a person in an oppressed group should know this and be able to state it upfront. Obama is not a good man and Clinton is not a good woman. They are both entitled to social justice but neither of them is entitled to our vote or support.

    Finally, without an internal sense of ethics, right and wrong become nothing more than rooting for a sports team. When my team kills people with drones, it is O.K. It is possibly even f-ing USA!, USA!, USA! When the other team does this, it is because those people are depraved and evil. Democrats could never have switched from opposing wars of empire to loving them in the space of less than 3 months if Democrats had internal ethics. This is also true of Republicans. Without internal ethics there can be no consistent political will towards the good for the people. It simply cannot happen.

    So we need to build a society which enables internal ethics resulting from critical thinking. We need to dismantle propaganda. How this is done seems extremely complicated to me. I further understand that the ruling elite can and will take action against any group who tries to foster such a society. I do not take their power lightly. Still, even if it is an unsuccessful endeavor, it is a worthwhile one.

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