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Bad Columns Imitate Bad Movies

[ 71 ] September 26, 2011 |

As others have already pointed out, Matt Miller’s latest column will be the worst argument in favor of a third party until whichever of he or Tom Freidman submits the same column next week.   What’s striking about this one, as Matt says, is that the radical centrist policies he deems impossible under the current system are the ones actually favored by the Democratic leadership.

This always reminds me of Man of the Year, irrefutable evidence of Barry Levinson’s artistic decline that was shown about 30 times a week on HBO a couple years ago.  I watched the first half several times because it was such a fascinating trainwreck.   The premise is that an extremely unfunny comedian, played by a perfectly (if inadvertently so) cast washed-up Robin Williams, shakes up the presidential race and then is elected via voter fraud.   The movie is a  trainwreck, first of all, in that it’s unfunny in a particularly grating, trying-too-hard way (what one might call Malcolm in the Middle syndrome.)   But it’s also interesting in that it’s a perfect embodiment of a particular kind of third party dreaming.   The vacuous platitudes that totally shake up the race are, to the very limited extent they have any content at all, the kind of stuff that basically all moderate Democrats say.   Except that liking Democrats is uncool, so these bog-standard centrist bumper stickers have to be expressed by a proactive dude who’s in your face, because it would be a totally new paradigm.

Daydream believing about a third party from the left is at least understandable.  Indeed, Naderite critiques of the content of policies favored by moderate Democrats are largely correct, although I think they underestimate the structural roadblocks to progressive policy in the United States, and they’re completely wrong about believing that third parties have any chance of solving the problem.    But at least the critique is coherent in its own way.   The Miller/Friedman dream for moderate Democratic policies to be advanced by a billionaire dreamboat who would be able to get his policies enacted in every last detail through sheer force of centrist wisdom, by contrast, it just pathetic.

Benen has more.

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  1. mark f says:

    I would get the Sunnis Democrats and the Shiites Republicans together and say, “Hey, cut the shit.”

    I also only watched the first half. Why is it voter fraud that catapults him to office? I thought in these fantasies the Poochie candidate was just what everyone was yearning for.

  2. Marek says:

    Hey, Malcolm in the Middle was pretty funny and shouldn’t be in the same paragraph as that turd of a movie.

  3. actor212 says:

    Actually, Man of the Year was on this weekend and I remember thinking to myself “Hm. Hideously cloying Robin Williams movie. Pass.”

    If I had known it was our homework assignment…

  4. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Indeed, Naderite critiques of the content of policies favored by moderate Democrats are largely correct, although I think they underestimate the structural roadblocks to progressive policy in the United States, and they’re completely wrong about believing that third parties have any chance of solving the problem.

    I just wanted to interrogate your use of the word “Naderite” here. Nader is a lifelong independent who is actively suspicious of political parties and has, thus, never invested much time or effort in third parties as such (though he has, at various times, competed for and/or run as the nominee of both the Green and Reform Parties).

    To the extent that “Naderite” is a descriptive term, rather than a mere pejorative, it ought to refer to a strategy that involves threatening a major party with electoral spoilage in order to convince it to do the right thing. Personally, I think this strategy is considerably worse than the effort to build third-parties of the left, in part because, under the right circumstances, it is possible for an independent presidential candidate to spoil (or appear to spoil) an election–thus making (or at least appearing to make) things worse–but that doing so will never get the Democrats to do the right thing.

    • soullite says:

      As one person once put it, this discussion has become the shingles of the internet. Nothing good ever comes of it.

      I don’t know if the moderate ‘left’ thinks this is some kind of ‘I win’ button, but really: If they were serious about winning elections they would be going out of their way to ease tensions. That they instead seek to inflame them is the surest sign that neoliberals would rather burn the party to the ground than give up the smallest amount of power within it.

      Anyone who enters a conversation screaming ‘NADER’ should be viewed as suspect.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        I didn’t raise Nader’s name, soullite. Scott did. Here he associates the word “Naderite” with an effort to build a third party to the left of the Democratic Party. Whatever you think of Nader, this is simply inaccurate (and I say this as someone who voted for Nader in ’96, worked for Nader in ’00, and voted for Nader’s opponent, David Cobb, at the Green Party Convention in ’04…and am now an Independent, so I’ve been all over the map on Nader, fwiw).

        So while both you and snarkout are correct that saying “Nader” online is usually just an invitation to a flamewar, I’m certainly not starting one….and it’s worth noting that no flamewar has erupted on this thread so far.

        • Murc says:

          I didn’t raise Nader’s name, soullite. Scott did. Here he associates the word “Naderite” with an effort to build a third party to the left of the Democratic Party.

          He does?

          I read his statement as associating Naderite with a certain school of criticism leveled at moderate Democrats; that is, that they’re corporate whores with preferences largely indistinguishable from the Republicans of ten years ago.

          A statement I largely agree with.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Scott says, quite explicitly that “Naderites” believe that third parties can solve America’s problems. In fact, Ralph Nader has always been singularly uninterested in party building. That’s my point.

            Of course when people say “Nader” they mean StrawNader and when people say “Naderite” they mean “people to the left of the Democratic Party” or (if less charitable) “hippies / purists / teh Professional Left.”

            Sorry for complaining about the usage.

            For what it’s worth, like you and Scott (apparently) I agree with “Naderites’” analysis of the Democratic Party.

            • When I use the term Naderite, I am referring to the people who stated unambiguously that they preferred the Bush/Cheney regime over the morally compromised Gore. People who cannot see difference between presidents of the two parties are willfully blind. Many a Naderite has almost no idea what Mr Nader himself has said and done in his career. His contempt for labor and civil rights issues, for example. But I am sure none of this applies to anyone who comments here and that you all had really great reasons for whatever it was you did and that if I weren’t such a morally compromised corporate shill, if I only had your wisdom and education, I’d see that you were right, I was wrong, and that Gore not being president made the country a better place.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                So you have another pejorative usage of “Naderite”…

                I am referring to the people who stated unambiguously that they preferred the Bush/Cheney regime over the morally compromised Gore.

                FWIW, I supported Nader in ’96 and 2000, opposed him (within the GP) in 2004…and I never preferred Bush/Cheney over Gore, nor did I ever even think there was no difference between the two.

                But what’s more relevant to this thread is that Scott’s usage of “Naderite” to designate a desire to build a third party to the left of the Democrats neither matches the reality of what Nader stood for nor any of the various pejorative uses, including yours.

                (Is this an Interweb first? We’re not actually having a Nader flame war, though we’re getting close to having a meta-Nader flame war!)

    • Warren Terra says:

      As a strategy to move the Democrats to the Left, being massive dicks about everything while pissing on their potential allies hasn’t served the Greens et al terribly well.

      As a strategy to move the Republicans to the Right, taking it over from the inside seems to have worked fairly well for the Tea Party.

      The contrast is especially striking considering the sweeping vistas available to the Left of the Democrats compared to the seemingly little available space left to the Right of the pre-Tea Party Republicans.

      • Ken says:

        …the seemingly little available space to the Right of the pre-Tea Party Republicans.

        And yet, they still find new lines to cross.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        The Tea Party took over the Republicans decades ago — they’re the Republican base — and they did it by politicizing evangelical Christianity (yes, fine, fundamentalist, but it’s a subset) and a billion or so of funding from the Koch brothers and their predecessors.

        You just let me know when the progressive Dem base is heavily funded by some millionaires and has a major cable network providing round-the-clock media fluffing of their nobility and truemericanism, echoed by the other news networks 24/7.

  5. snarkout says:

    As someone familiar with all Internet traditions, I look forward to the 60+ comment “Nader was right/no, he wasn’t!” flame war that will follow this.

  6. Leeds man says:

    I think they underestimate the structural roadblocks to progressive policy in the United States

    Could you expand on that, Scott? I’m not sure what “structural” means in this context.

    • elm says:

      I’m not Scott, but he has argued before that the high number of veto points makes it dificult to pass any reform. Further, progressive reform is hampered by the overrepresentation of rural interests in the Senate, particularly when coupled with the filibuster. Although progressive reform is not impossible given all this, it would be easier to achieve if the structure of the government were changed. Scott, I know, prefers a Westminster model which usually has a much lower number of veto points.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Basically right. The structure of the electoral college and the Senate makes getting a liberal president and liberal median votes in the Senate enormously difficult. And the impossibility of passing meaningful campaign finance reform makes things worse.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          And the impossibility of passing meaningful campaign finance reform makes things worse.

          Shouldn’t that be difficulty?

          I mean McCain-Feingold was hardly perfect, but it was a lot better than we have now. And it was passed in the recent past. And then got overturned by a closely divided court.

          We’ve gotten where we are today because the right has been willing to think very long term. What may have seemed impossible in 1960 or 1964 now seems virtually necessary.

          It will take a lot of work and a long time to change these things.

          But they won’t change if the most likely change agents start by postulating that change is impossible.

          • It’s not just the long term thinking or planning by the right-wing; they have almost all the money.

          • jeer9 says:

            But they won’t change if the most likely change agents start by postulating that change is impossible.

            That seems to me a good definition of centrist Dem corporate hackdom.

          • Lee says:

            Well if any meaningful campaign finance law is unconstitutional because of the First Amendment under Citizens United than meaningful campaign finace reform is practically impossible. The chances of amending the Constituion to allow campaign finance reform or make the Senate better is nill.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              But the chances of changing the make-up of the SCOTUS (and with it First Amendment jurisprudence) are significantly greater. We’re only talking about one vote here.

  7. rea says:

    at least the critique is coherent in its own way.

    Say what you will, dude, at least it’s an ethos.

  8. [...] Scott Lemieux: Daydream believing about a third party from the left is at least understandable. Indeed, Naderite critiques of the content of policies favored by moderate Democrats are largely correct, although I think they underestimate the structural roadblocks to progressive policy in the United States, and they’re completely wrong about believing that third parties have any chance of solving the problem. But at least the critique is coherent in its own way. The Miller/Friedman dream for moderate Democratic policies to be advanced by a billionaire dreamboat who would be able to get his policies enacted in every last detail through sheer force of centrist wisdom, by contrast, it just pathetic. [...]

  9. Jamie says:

    It is terribly annoying, but we get Friedman, Malcolm, and Nader.

    I think the lesson is that Dems ….

    Fuck it. We are doomed.

  10. [...] of Man of the Year, browsing through the list I found that the great Nathan Rabin covered it in his Year of Flops [...]

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