Labeling Us to Death

Senator Ed Markey did the unimaginable…beat a Kennedy in Massachusetts. Markey was challenged by Joe Kennedy III in his state’s September 1 primary election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rarely takes sides in Democratic primaries but did in this one, throwing her support behind Kennedy. Pelosi and other top Democrats have considered it close to treasonous when insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez challenged incumbents in party primaries, but they openly backed Markey’s challenger in this one.

It sure looks like they wanted to send AOC a message. Markey wrote and introduced the Green New Deal resolution in Congress along with Ocasio-Cortez in 2019. He hasn’t had second thoughts, saying: “The Republicans, Fox News, they called the Green New Deal when Alexandria and I introduced it ‘socialism.’ Well, what do you call tax breaks for 100 years for the oil, for the gas, for the coal industries — the wealthiest industries in America shaking our money out of our pockets for tax breaks for them? What I say is: Give us some of that socialism for wind, and solar, and all-electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids and storage battery technology. And we will be looking at the fossil-fuel industry in the rear-view mirror of history.”

That’s the way to do it. Don’t duck and cover when the S word gets thrown around. Throw it right back. They’re for socialism and protectionism for the rich and powerful and pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps survival of the fittest for the rest of us. Give us some of that socialism you’ve been lavishing on the rich.

It’s not just Democrats like Pelosi who are afraid of the insurgents. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote a column recently warning Democrats not to fall in with the “far left.” That kind of talk from right wingers is like coaches speaking glowingly of their counterparts coaching teams they repeatedly beat. They don’t want those coaches fired. It makes their job harder. Republicans don’t want Democrats to actually stand for anything like Medicare for All or a Green New Deal. That would make their job harder. They know the majority of Americans want those things, not just the “far left.”

All of this brings me to something I wrote in my book Unscrewing America about how labels get slapped on people and policies to keep us all at each other’s throats, to divide and conquer us.

“As old labels indicate, we’ve all been conditioned to think about politics horizontally, from right to left. This way of thinking needlessly divides us by magnifying our differences and glossing over our commonalities. Turn the political spectrum on its head, and think top to bottom instead of left to right, and a magical thing can happen. Picture a man and a woman. He’s white. She’s black, He’s a farmworker, she’s a childcare provider. Both are struggling to make ends meet. He votes Republican, she votes for Democrats. On the old horizontal political spectrum, they are far apart, her on the left and him on the right. We see them as enemies. They see each other the same way. They are divided and conquered. Now think vertically. Who’s on top and who’s on the bottom? Who has the most money, and who has the least? Who has the power and who doesn’t? Whose voices are heard and whose aren’t? These two people are in the same spot on a vertical political spectrum and have more in common than they or we have been trained to see. Talking vertically involves talking about royals and commoners or have-lots and have-littles, not liberals and conservatives or left-wingers and right-wingers. Thinking vertically not only has the potential to unite those who are currently divided but also empower those who are presently conquered.”

Mike McCabe

September 2, 2020