Do Political Labels Matter Anymore?

In Robert Reich’s 2013 documentary film, “Inequality for All” Reich and Alan Simpson, US Senator from Wyoming, agree that the pejorative political names both have been called, i.e., “socialist” and “communist” didn’t apply to them.

Reich sees himself as a “liberal”; Simpson sees himself as a “conservative”. Both are firm believers in capitalism, not communism.

The “right”

Now, Steve Bannon, chief advisor to President-elect Donald Trump,  is being labeled a “right wing bigot,” yet Bannon prefers the terms “alt-right” and “nationalist”.

Donald Trump’s detractors see Trump as a rapacious, narcissistic millionaire, but Trump claims to be a “populist,” a man of the people, and a political outsider to the Republican Party. What are we to make of political labels anymore, in particular, the labels of “conservative” and “right-wing” as applied to Republicans?

To some Americans, these labels seem to mean something and describe particular beliefs, but to those who don’t live every day in the world of politics the words no longer make sense. There’s a nerve-wracking ‘cognitive dissonance’ between the labels and the reality.

The “left”

When Hillary Clinton claimed to be a “progressive” just like Bernie Sanders in the primaries, it didn’t ring true for a lot of Democrats. It’s too bad there was never a real discussion between the two about the difference. I would’ve liked to know how each candidate defined that word.

Nevertheless, unlike the Republicans who ignored a cornucopia of conservative candidates and moved to the far right of their party, the Democrats went for Hillary rather than Bernie in the end.

For decades the political “wisdom” has been that the politician of either party who leaned the closest towards the center between the two major parties in the US would win the Presidency. That notion has been shattered by this Presidential election.

Uncharted territory

Not since mid-20th century elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman has one major party in the US held power in all three branches of government; the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. And never has a candidate without any political and/or military experience been elected US President.

Clearly, we’re in brand new territory – neither the traditional “left” nor the “right” nor the “middle” won our Presidential election. What political label can describe Donald Trump?

Recently Trump tweeted that Britain should name Nigel Farage, the chief instigator of the Brexit campaign, to be ambassador to the US. Trump has closely identified his campaign with the Brexit movement to leave the European Union.

However, the new Brexit government which ousted Farage as a too “hard-right”and “American Tea Party-type” in 2015, turned Trump down.

Unlike Trump, the Prime Minister now leading Brexit is a woman and she’s a long-time political insider. Her name is Theresa May. May, a Member of Parliament (MP) since 1997 is reputed to be a “conservative” in the traditional sense of that word, but like Trump in the US, she is claiming to represent the interests of the working class in Britain.

May has been a member of Britain’s Conservative Party. Like Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon, she identifies herself as a “one-nation” conservative.

Nevertheless, others call Theresa May a “liberal” conservative or a “Christian Democrat” [i.e., the liberal conservative party in Germany]. In addition to her attention to the working class, Theresa May’s views about women’s rights are much more “liberal” than Donald Trump’s.

While both May and Trump lean towards more government regulation in the forms of protectionist trade policies for and limits on immigration to their respective nations, May’s economic policies appear to be very different from Mr. Trump’s. He favors investors; she favors workers.

“The populists”

The only label Trump and May appear to wish to share is “populist,” a man [or woman] “of the people”.  But here’s the difference I see.

Donald Trump’s brand of populism calls for tax cuts on businesses and the rich along with a “New Deal” for the unemployed and underemployed largely white male working class via infrastructure repairs and extensions. These projects, financed by private-sector investing in government bonds (municipal, state and federal) which would be paid off with taxpayer funds, are a ‘corporate welfare’ program, or as Sarah Palin said, ‘crony capitalism’.

Theresa May’s brand of populism, on the other hand, calls for full disclosure of the ratio of corporate CEO to workers pay and shareholder control of CEO pay, ideas that “liberal” economist Robert Reich might endorse.

Reich believes in the uncoupling of CEO salaries from the notion of ‘job performance’ and setting upper limits on CEO pay as sure ways to decrease income inequality among Americans.

However, business leaders in Britain are strongly criticizing May’s proposal for disconnecting executive corporate pay from “job performance” and her desire for public disclosure of CEO/worker pay ratios.

May also wanted worker participation in corporate decisions, (something Germany has had for years), but backed off when corporate leaders complained.

My point? Let’s drop the old political labels and talk specifically about what our national leaders are actually doing in the economic realm. The old labels don’t tell the whole story anymore.



1 comment so far ↓

#1 Raoul Martinez on 12.12.16 at 3:22 pm

This an interesting subject. Labels certainly don’t confirm an individual’s political preference. Our president-elect’s actions, threats, promises and views during the campaign were frightening, and didn’t even reflect clear sane political party policy. It is kind of scary, because you don’t know what to expect from his administration.

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