In 1975, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched a TV campaign supporting American-made clothing. Workers—men alongside women—sang a charming ditty, “Look for the Union Label.” Given that so many jobs first fled union shops then were lost to offshoring, that label inside a garment made sense. Ultimately, the campaign failed. Americans preferred cheaper foreign-made goods. Today, we live with many other kinds of labels. They’re not working, either.
I refer to political labels. Democrat and Republican are two. You can also be a Libertarian, Green, Socialist or Communist (not many of those around). Here’s where confusion begins. Many people who register with a party aren’t members and don’t attend conventions or conferences. They don’t necessarily toe the party line, either. They use their registration to vote in primaries or caucuses. Now, states with open primaries make such registration unnecessary.
Another political label has gained prominence: Independent. Bernie Sanders used to be one. An Independent stays free of party registration or affiliation. Yet many registered Democrats and Republicans as mentioned above function as Independents. They freely cross party lines. Witness a label from the recent past: Reagan Democrats. You might even remember Dixiecrats. They became Republicans.
Labels also exist within labels. Some Democrats call themselves Progressives (Go Bernie!). Others Moderates (Go Hillary!). Or maybe also Progressives. Republicans identify as Conservatives or Tea Partiers or both. A few flirt with the label Rockefeller Republicans, i.e. Centrists. They tend to hide in the closet. Libertarians may call themselves Social Liberals and/or Economic Conservatives or downright Anarchists.
Then there are supporters of Donald Trump. Republican? Not necessarily. Conservative? Sometimes. Sometimes not. They often drift to another label: Authoritarian. Trump supporters may hold varied positions on such issues as immigration, taxes, abortion, and Muslims. But they share a deep anger at Washington. An Authoritarian leader, they believe, will disregard Congress and impose solutions. How? By being Authoritarian. Donald Trump will “make America great again” because he says he will.
Consider also Insiders and Outsiders. Congress’ popularity remains well under 20 percent. (Interestingly, the Gallup Poll of May 23–29, 2016 shows President Obama’s approval rating at 52 percent.) Many Americans believe that Congress accomplishes little to nothing because it’s composed of Insiders, also known as Politicians. Politicians’ first concern isn’t the general welfare but holding office. Not surprisingly, loyalty to their Democrat and Republican labels—thus assuring campaign funding—prevents Politicians from reaching across the aisle to get anything done.
And let’s not forget The Establishment. These rich people pull strings behind the scenes. Everyone hates The Establishment. Except everyone wants to be rich, which would make them part of The Establishment.
What to do? The philosophy of the famed comedian W.C. Fields has gained traction: “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” Voters can thumb their noses at The Establishment by replacing Washington Insiders with Outsiders. Although victorious Outsiders immediately become Insiders.
Labels offer easy choices between Right (your position) and Wrong (the other guy’s). Unfortunately, they keep us from thinking as individuals and approaching issues not as no-brainers but as complex. This November, we could do America a favor by dropping Labelmania and separating fantasy from reality. We might label that Patriotism.
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