The Politics Of Responsibility

One glaring blind spot liberals have is the issue of personal responsibility. And it features prominently in this election. We tend to blame society, culture and other abstractions for a range of problems, from the gun violence in our inner cities to inequality. Usually Republicans win on this issue because they keep it simple. They castigate liberal apprehensions about racial and ethnic stereotypes when they invoke the need for people to be held accountable for their actions.

This presidential election, the nation faces a vastly unprepared candidate in Republican Donald Trump who also happens to be the least responsible candidate of our time. Trump emphasized this last week when he shifted the blame for his birtherism to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, which multiple news outlets recognized was a bald-faced lie.

Trump refuses responsibility for his morass of false statements and likely won't follow through on many of the promises he is making on the campaign trail, such as building a wall on our southern border and forcing Mexico to pay for it. How would he fare as a president? The last president with such a distaste for the truth lied us into war. There are signs that Trump would do worse, from his seriously asking advisers why we can't use nuclear weapons to his pandering to an often racist and unhinged base.

With Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, we hear that she is simply not trustworthy enough to hold the position. Her critics on the left decry her lack of progressive bona fides and are actually considering a protest vote for a third-party candidate. They would derail the American experiment in democracy because Clinton doesn't speak to them. How have we gotten to this point?

I'd argue a lot of it has to do with the way we on the left think of responsibility. Because we lead with our hearts so much, we are too quick to blame amorphous eminences like "society" for individual failing. And we don't take the responsibility of voting seriously enough. A vote for anyone but Clinton would be a disaster.

Trump can actually sound like the more responsible candidate to some because the right has often taken up issues such as individualism and a disdain for cultural explanations for personal problems. Because he wraps himself in such language, to many who don't scrutinize his words he seems more presidential.

But Clinton, a seasoned politician who also cares about issues affecting the powerless in society, will prove to be much more responsible than Trump. Clinton is the perfect embodiment of a practical politician. She hasn't always said the right things over her long career but she is willing to listen to others and compromise for the good of the country. She realizes that you have to have actual policy positions, not just one-liners and zingers, and you have to do your homework to be able to lead a nation of more than 300 million people.

Nick Kristof has written that society is responsible for the choices you have and you are responsible for the choices you make. I know that when pushed to the brink, even the most responsible people can make bad decisions. Without help from others, we can fail to realize what is the best path forward. But make no mistake, each person has a choice in how he or she will act. I had a professor who once asked my class if we really thought that people in poverty didn't have at least some say in the lives they led. We found ourselves unable to disagree. In a democracy, each person's choice of actions affects others greatly, and not just on election day. We liberals need to embrace responsibility again because always demurring on the issue is only helping Trump and his followers.