Well, to continue with the post-modern discussion around here…Please consider this a thought experiment (and, like any experiment, it could be horribly wrong from the get-go). I want to bring up a subject that hopefully will garner a good deal of debate. I want to talk about single-issue voters. But I want to do it by first recasting the terms of the debate – ie, by changing the focus from judging what such a voter is to what such a voter does (the latter of which of course can’t be done without first addressing the former) .
The whole idea of identities first requires a bit of unpacking, because identities are tricky things. They’re constantly in flux. You have a million different identities that exist as they are evoked by contrast – you are a liberal in relation to conservatives. You are a subordinate in relation to your boss, and a boss to the others operating beneath you. You define yourself by a sense of othering, by negation, telling who you are by telling who you are not, and the way you do this changes with each context.
And why do you do this? Why does it matter who you are? Each categorical identification has a different strategic advantage in its power effects. This means that people treat you differently depending on how you present your identity at a specific place and time, and they allow you to treat them differently as they best respond to you in order to maximize their strategic advantage. The important thing isn’t what your identity is, rather what it does.
An identity is not a thing. It is a strategy.
And the point of any strategy is to maximize the ability to create a desired reality. If I believe in the broad sweep of liberal social values, identifying myself as and advocating the democrat cause is the best strategy to create this reality. The opposite can be true for Republicans. And any social system is made up this multiplicity of strategies in constant opposition.
But strategies, too, are tricky things because they have more than one side. There is the phoneme and the morpheme, the sound you make and the sound that is heard, and it is the power-effect of the latter that determines a strategy’s worth. And how does that of the single-issue voter measure up? For this, we turn to the system within which this voter is operating, the discourses of power that each attempt to suppress the other in order to confer upon themselves the designation of superior truth. It is Clausewitz inverted. It is politics as the continuation of war by other means.
In terms of US politics, this system is cast in terms of binary opposition, of Republicans and Democrats (presumably mediated by something, although you would be hard pressed to find anything resembling a dialectic turn in our future). One is defined by negation of the other. And set into this system you can find a multiplicity of identities, including that of the single-issue voter, who falls on either side of this ideological divide of red and blue. What is his strategy, other than the repetition of a discourse that is a limited version the larger discourse of his party (or, if independent, a party)? More importantly, who is his audience? Himself, and others like him.
Take for example pro-lifers. If an ardent pro-lifer came up to me and started in on their agenda, it would take less than five minutes for me to shut down altogether and start inching towards the door. It is not an effective strategy to target me with this sort of rhetoric. Rather, the only people who will listen to pro-lifers are other pro-lifers. And the best strategy, then, for someone advocating this agenda is to ignore the opposition and rally the like-minded. There is no reaching across the aisle, no attempt at consensus. It would be fair to say that the widening political schism in this country is in no small way impacted by these political activists who care about politics not holistically, systemically, but only in so far as they can be manipulated to achieve a singular goal. And these goals are only met in the short-term because they are pushing towards a zero-sum game.
This is not to say that single-issue voters don’t have any effect. If anything, the opposite is true. They have the capacity to evoke the most change of any political entity out there. This however has nothing to do with their role as a voter, rather their role as an activist. A single-issue voter is someone who is willing to pick up the phone and lobby tooth and nail in favor of normalizing a specific social order. For them, the political system, itself, becomes a strategy rather than an area of focus. These voters are a transitory part of our political apparatus, and as such they are confined by it, unable to make the long-lasting changes they would like to make, instead only strengthening party antagonisms that make any future collaboration on non-zero-sum issues impossible. Their identity is based on negation, but so is the rhetoric they use to implement their identity-strategy. They have a single audience and a drum that has been beating so loudly it’s impossible to ignore, impossible not take a side, and issues have lost their shades of grey.
That is power-effect of the single-issue voter.