”˜Yuppie Liberalism’ Represents Untenable Politics

Andy Monserud

I’d like to preface this column with a warning to Whitman’s rarest minority, conservatives.  You probably have no interest in what I’m about to say, and, frankly, it’s not catered to you.  There, you’re free to go back to preparing for finals without wasting your time on my column.  My problem this week is with the liberals of Whitman.

It’s no huge secret that the Whitman campus leans left, but it’s also no secret that its students are largely upper-middle and upper class.  This creates a troublesome norm of what I like to call “yuppie liberalism.”  That is best expressed with the all-too-common mantra: “I’m socially liberal but economically conservative.”

I have some bad news for those people: you can’t pick and choose like that.  “Socially liberal” almost always refers to a fascination with identity politics, particularly gay rights, women’s rights and other gender politics.  The politics of racial identity also hold a place in liberal Whitties’ worldviews, but a much smaller and controversial one which many members of Whitman’s largely white population tolerate but don’t engage in.  Similarly, class issues rarely come up at all.  Ignoring inconvenient issues is not social liberalism––that’s selective liberalism, and it’s rarely more than empty words.

The fact is, most of those issues relate in some sense or another to fiscal policy.  The major reason for Whitman’s abysmally low number of black students––about 1.5 percent of the total population––is the high price of college and the prevalence of poverty among African Americans that has persisted for the entirety of the nation’s history. Poor queer people suffer disproportionate amounts of discrimination and violence, and poor victims of domestic violence frequently have fewer options to escape and rebuild their lives.  While we can’t solve any of these issues with economics alone, a little concern for the economic well-being of others sure wouldn’t hurt.

To me, anyway, the crux of liberal politics should be equality––the availability of opportunity for everyone, no matter their socioeconomic, racial, ethnic or geographic background. So the well-being of the poor and the efficacy of the state in promoting everyone’s success should lie in the foreground of our political agendas, not shunted to the side as a peripheral issue.

This apathy comes in some part from the idea that we, college students, can’t do anything about economic policy.  The Whitman bubble allows us some insulation from the real-world impacts of economic policy, and so we forget our responsibilities beyond the few thousand square feet we spend most of our lives in.  But even from within those confines we can work as activists without preaching to the choir.  Your senators and congressmen and women still take e-mails, phone calls and (believe it or not) letters.  C-SPAN is boring, sure, but there are other ways to stay informed.  And for God’s sake, come election time, vote!