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The Shock Doctrine

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Allison Hantschel on the latest fusilade of dudebro wankery at Salon:

I love it when some comfortably situated jerkoff who will not suffer a single thing as a result of a Republican presidency likes to talk about using that Republican presidency to teach the rubes a lesson! Sure, I mean, some women might die from lack of decent health care, and some kids might starve if their food stamps get cut off, and some old people might just have to put on four sweaters and turn the thermostat down again, and a couple of bridges might collapse, and we might send another few goddam thousand kids to die in the sand, but hey, at least progressives will be proved right for once!

Is there a name for this genre of commentary? You know, like when a columnist wishes for poor people to learn from their poverty or imagines a natural disaster to inspire people with lots of awesome death? Or when a politician compares people on unemployment to stray animals who’ll return to the site of their handouts and breed? What do we call this particular rhetorical tic? I feel like it needs a name so we can see its practitioners coming.

Once and for all time, politics is not a game and its consequences are not imaginary for many, many people. Salon columnists may always have a job no matter who is in office, and let’s face it, so will I, but there are people who will not. Who will be fired, turned away from clinics, denied help, denied food, denied their rights under the law, as a result of decisions being made by voters. Real people, who have real lives. They’re not bargaining chits to be used to push a presumably somnolent country to some kind of spiritual epiphany.

Precisely. “We’ll show the neoliberal sellouts by putting the Republican in office,” particularly in the heighten-the-contradictions variant, is the lefty equivalent of “this town could really use a Katrina so we could bust the teacher’s unions.” It’s better in the sense that the desired ends are more desirable, and even worse because it has no chance of working even on its own terms — when “successful,” as in 2000, it achieves the downside but not the upside.

And the appalling callousness of the argument is also a crucial reason why it won’t work tactically. “We will hold out until the Democrats have presicely my position on pet issue(s) x(y)” won’t work because there are too many potential “dealbreakers,” and also because some of the “dealbreakers” would be net vote losers and/or unable to attract viable candidates. But the additional problem is that the subset of voters a spoiler third party or write-in candidate needs to consistently attract isn’t “people who place the highest priority on issue x the Democrats are neglecting,” but “people who place the highest priority on issue x the Democrats are neglecting and are indifferent to the massive amounts of avoidable human suffering a heighten-the-contradictions strategy would entail if it worked.” There are, fortunately, just not enough assholes out there for this to work. And the problem gets more acute since the ballot box can’t send carefully targeted and specific messages — there are almost as many issue priorities projected onto Nader’s essentially vacuous campaign as there were Nader voters — so most people won’t see their “dealbreaker” addressed by the party and will see their action created horrible consequences for nothing. It’s better for all involved if the gullible and the stubborn don’t have to learn the lesson the hard way.

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