The contemporary Amerikan liberal is a specimen of political animal whose greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The roly-poly toy Weebles captures perfectly the broad but shallow political tradition that narrowly defeated Donald Trump in the recent presidential elections: “Tipping an egg-shaped Weeble causes a weight located at the bottom-center to be lifted off the ground. Once released, gravity brings the Weeble back into an upright position.” (Weeble–Wikipedia Retrieved 11/10/20). The weight is fidelity to private property and markets as the sine-qua-non of democracy; the “wobble” constitutes repeated attempts to solve the intractable and recurring crises that this unstable marriage of democracy and capitalism produces. The key here is that Weebles are very kinetic, but only over a very limited terrain. They move a lot, but not very far nor very quickly. They are remarkably stable, but also inflexible. To stop fascism and replace capitalism with a political economy that serves the many and not the few, we need to move. Weebles only move slowly, in a haphazard manner, and never in a predetermined direction. Push a Weeble one way, and it will lean the other, while its fulcrum will shift in an altogether different direction. Kinda frustrating. Indeed, they don’t fall over, but we should not mistake such leaning to and fro as movement toward any destination other than where they already reside.
Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive and faux feminist, is generally credited with popularizing the term “lean in” as a meta concept for contemporary progressives. The core operating principle behind “lean in” Democrats is the Weeble wobble. If one is standing still, to lean in is to initiate a deviation from a perpendicular position; it is to begin an inclination as one tips the body into a slope. Above all it signals a state of readiness to move in a particular direction. Such a maneuver does not, however, fully commit one to moving in that direction. When one leans there is always an element of hedging; always an aspect of waiting, of anticipating, and therefore the possibility of staying put or even reversing the lean and heading off in another, even opposite, direction. To lean is also by definition to be a bit off balance. Bill Clinton was the consummate practitioner of the political maneuver known as triangulation, something similar to the Weeble wobble, but with one major difference. Clinton’s triangulating was always a form of political calculation; the Weeble wobble is a function of the limits of the liberal philosophical horizon.
This Weeble wobble is almost always well-meaning but also ineffectual; it is earnest and committed waffling, passionate virtue signaling and much celebrated but empty representational politics. Hence, its popularity amongst liberal ideologues. They lean a great deal, but go nowhere. They are perpetually “leaning” towards justice, yet never actually moving to it. Everything is about intention, not results; opportunity, not equality. It’s no wonder so many people hate them. Conservatives, by the way, practice much the same politics. In times of social quiescence such middle-of-the-road centrism anchors capitalism by bracketing out radical solutions to systemic problems.
These are not those times.
Liberals always link political freedom to private property and markets; economic opportunity to the capitalist ship of state. This means they necessarily undermine struggles for economic equality, anti-racism, gender liberation and anti-fascism. To uphold the universalism and exceptionalism claimed by the United States of Amerika involves punching downward in an effort to thwart popular revolutionary struggles. When the political center no longer offers solutions to the recurring crises endemic to capitalism, people look elsewhere for an exit. They will look to fascism or socialism. The first is a door that opens to a cliff. The second must not be a door that binds us to more of the Weeble wobble. Our class solidarity and mutual aide is the only guarantee of a different future. That means we must break decisively with liberalism in the direction of radical democracy and equality.