Indeed, the preoccupation with racial and gender identity has hollowed out political language, the void filled by an apparently apolitical alternative – the neoliberal discourse of antiseptic intervention abroad and efficient productivity at home.
The exceptionalist faith transcends evidence. We can be sure that during the run-up to the 2016 election, democracy will continue its inexorable forward march, in the rhetoric of Democrats and Republicans if not in the world at large. Among the current crop of candidates, the only challenges to exceptionalism come from Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, and Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia. Paul has defended civil liberties more outspokenly than any other congressman in either party; he is a consistent libertarian, as opposed to the warfare state as to the welfare state. He is a loose cannon, with many repellent views on domestic policy. Still, it would be good for democratic debate to see him take on Clinton’s foreign policy.
Webb’s scepticism is a refreshing alternative to the sanitised abstractions of the Washington consensus. He has troubling idiosyncrasies, among them a tendency to defend Reagan and an Arlington apartment packed with military artefacts. Still, he remains a rare contemporary example of the pragmatic realist tradition, a worthy successor to Fulbright and Kennan (who also had troubling idiosyncrasies). But Webb is also a white male, with no capital to invest in the identities market. The most likely nominee remains Hillary Clinton, whose success would embody the failure of the American political imagination and the tragedy of identity politics. But after all, it’s her turn.
If you were waiting for someone to cross Mark Lilla with Michael Tracey, this is an exciting moment! There really are few things more pathetic than people on the ostensible left who rail against the perfidy of liberal Democrats while grading neoconfederate cranks on the most generous possible curve.
And nothing gives away the show more quickly than a leftier-than-thou-and-thou-and-most-definitely-thou with a preference ranking of Paul > Webb > Clinton. Perhaps this explains why Lears is so inept at deploying the arbitrary, ever-shifting dealbreakers game he attacks mainstream Democrats for adopting positions mainstream Democrats have for the most part adopted. Longtime readers of this blog will know this, but leaving aside his appalling views on domestic policy and civil rights the idea that Paul — 25% rating from the ACLU! — is the Senate’s greatest libertarian is absolutely preposterous. I suppose it would be IDENTITY POLITICS for me to observe that Lears identifying someone who believes that the state should coerce women to carry pregnancies to term as the Senate’s Greatest Civil Libertarian is what you might call a tell, just like the HER TURN bullshit or the assertion that Jim Webb would have had a great shot at the nomination were it not for the Democratic primary electorate’s prejudice against white men.