The Missing Centre

While we’re plugging Grit-TV, I should also note Thomas Frank’s recent appearance was a really on-point rebuttal of the half-arsed centrism of the media classes.  In this clip, he says:

Right, ok we’re shifting gears here to the political science conversation, which is that the centre is what always prevails in American politics.  Where if a party gets too far to the right or too far to the left, they get smacked back to the middle and the median voter sits in judgment on all things great and small, right?  This is always the logic used to excommunicate the left wing of the Democratic party.  But, a very curious thing has happened in the last couple years.  The Republican party which got smacked around pretty badly in 06 and 08 and instead of scampering back the middle, what did they do?  You had John Boehner, the mastermind of the whole situation, move really sharply to the right.  Instead of embracing the moderates, they excommunicated them, they kicked them out of the party, they primary them, and what happened?  They just won.  They just won, Laura Flanders.  It’s a political philosophy embraced by political science professors and Washington Post columnists and those people, it turns out, don’t win elections for you.

I think this is so key.  The mythical centre (sorry I can’t use the US spelling, it is just wrong) doesn’t have anything at stake, doesn’t need anything but the status quo.  By appealing to the “centre”, you forget that the class interests of the many lie to the Left, that people need better working conditions, better pay.  What they don’t need is to live in the Magic Wish Land of the Right, where the middle-class still exists and a 205k-a-year salary is somehow being oppressed…  and that is where centrism leads us, by legitimising the utter bullshit of the Right and moderating it a tad.  In essence, it accepts the false framing, the false forced choices.  The “there is no alternative” to neo-liberalism line.

As a parallel, the “centrist” positions on abortion takes the impossible position that there is a median between having a choice and not having a choice by accepting that so we should therefore limit some forms of abortion–thus accepting the very presumption that women cannot (always) be relied upon to make their own choices.  This centrist move unwittingly (or wittingly) forms a part of the broader “chip chip chip” anti-choice strategy as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has called it.

No, Thomas Frank is quite right, centrism is a dead end for the Left as well as the Right.  The very field of struggle needs to be transformed, so that the universal, the equitable, the just, the social, become not just lipservice but actually politically viable options.

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“Status Socialism”

It occurs to me that there’s an obvious link here with the idea that the contemporary populist right is heavily driven by ressentiment—and that a lot of our current politics has less to do with actual policy disagreements than with resolving status anxieties. You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.

-Julian Sanchez

I think this is worth noting for several reasons and not just because it uses the word “Socialism.” Because as Thomas Frank explains so well, the U.S. working class has been sold SOMETHING in place of wage increases, and obsessive patriotism is part of it.

Patriotism these days too often seems like the acceptable name for “White Pride.” But that’s another story entirely, isn’t it? (And is, obviously, not always the case.)