Affirming lifestyles

Modern politics is eschewing economic and societal matters for the politics of lifestyle.

Politics is the crucible of national culture; it’s the battleground between interests where common or majority values are forged. But modern professional politicians are confusing private and public interests. It’s all part of the socialisation of the personal, and the escalation of emotion over fact.

I’m talking about the political tactic of “lifestyle affirmation” – where politicians do and say symbolic things that affirm the value of particular sectors of society.

The difficulty for Western politicians is that we live in pluralistic communities: people have wildly varying preferences, lifestyles and opinions. These are often at odds with each other. It’s tolerable in private. It is awkward, and even conflictual, in public.

Take the irony of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. He invested a lot of emotion into affirmation of the homosexual community, but controversyhas arisen because he left out trans-gender people.

This is always the risk of affirmation politics; that by bowing to the pressure of one group, you denigrate another, offend another, or insult by omission. 

The real danger of affirmation politics is that politicians hand their moral power to the disaffected. They turn themselves into tools of special interests.

It’s not only a shallow tactic, it’s short term. When you’re affirming so many lifestyles, the power and meaning of the tactic dies.

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