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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Third Way Ain't No Way

To declare yourself "nonpolitical" or "antipolitical" as so many Americans do is to endorse the politics of the unsustainable racist patriarchal plutocratic status quo. Obviously, you cannot effectively criticize or resist that which is not politicized, that is to say grasped as open to and worthy of organized contestation. But to declare yourself "beyond left or right" -- which is also a favorite American pretense, more or less continuous with the first -- usually amounts to the deceptive or self-deceptive denial that you are politically on the right despite the fact that you know or know you should know better, or it amounts to the admission that you don't really understand the difference between left and right in which case you will inevitably fall for right-wing formulations that have the inertial heft of familiarity and incumbency on their side.

Accompanying and enabling these deceptions, so many Americans indulge the infantile fantasy that they're at once fiscally conservative but socially liberal (strictly speaking, I think they often mean "culturally" by "socially," but we'll set that aside). Such a position is absolutely incoherent: US-style "fiscal conservatism" always resists investment in the legal and social affordances without which social liberalism cannot be maintained let alone thrive. Only by supporting equity -- which is what so-called fiscal conservatives bemoan as "tax and spend" -- can diversity find its way to secure and sustained expression. That the budget hawks of fiscal conservatism are always actually hypocritically eager to champion, on their own preferred plutocratic terms, everything they presumably abhor -- a planned economy stealthed as the Defense budget, endless welfare entitlements for the already rich to create a "good business environment" or "climate for investment" (hey, who says plutocrats don't believe in climate change or care for the environment!) -- is simply evidence that American inertial apoliticism and pampered infantilism is wonderfully facilitative of what should be instantly grasped and rejected as utter right-wing nonsense. And this is a situation made all the worse by the fact that much of the American left seems too lazy or too misguided to do the necessary basic educational work concisely formulating and endlessly reminding people of basic tenets of progressive governance -- like this, for example -- that could provide a protective commonsense against such right-wing nonsense.

To all this add the fact that more and more Americans seem to be declaring themselves "independents" these days. Many of these "independents" are simply Republicans who are too ashamed to admit they are Republicans in the present horror-show of peak Republican white-racist forced-pregnancy anti-science ugliness but who, very much to the contrary of the conduct one would expect of the truly independent-minded in such a moment, will go ahead and vote for Republicans most of the time anyway. Many other "independents" are simply ignoramuses who vote in ways shaped mysteriously by loose signals intuited from months of irresponsible media gossip and scandal mongering and then by the egregious lies of campaign advertisements in their final days. Needless to say, most independents also pride themselves in being -- to return to the beginning of this post -- non-political, beyond left or right, and fiscally conservative but socially liberal and so there really is no telling what kind of dumb damage they are finally capable of. Worse than the fact that the "moderate middle" -- so beloved by American elites in the corporate commentariat of think-tanks and cable news -- does not exist apart from this inertial and incoherent idiocy of independents who are not independent in any actually relevant sense is that the viewpoint is incoherent in any case and so CANNOT exist.

It is hard to believe that we who are living in the ruins of a world shaped by the market fundamentalist pieties that suffused both the neoliberal Democratic Party and the movement conservative Republican Party could actually still fall for "third way" formulations -- whether offered by the libertopian con of the "Political Compass" quiz or the literal Third Way of austerian corporatists. That these conceptually nonsensical and historically discredited formulations still seem intuitively plausible, even to so many who think themselves people of the left, testifies to the abject failure of the American left to support the rhetorical infrastructure in which progressives campaigns, policy proposals, and governance can be sustained. For those looking for comparatively pithy aphoristic supports for basic progressive priorities as well as critiques of especially American right-wing notions, may I recommend my Dispatches from Libertopia? I may be failing, but I am trying. To say the least, "third way" proposal -- whether the non-political way, the anti-political way, the beyond political way, or the between political way -- ends up being the same old way: plutocracy.

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