Must-read in Naked Capitalism: “The Crackpot Realism of Clintonian Politics”

Published online 20 February 2016.

To be sure, the title of this piece in yesterday’s Naked Capitalism (by Nathan Tankus) is complete clickbait — but the article itself has some substance and ought to be read carefully.

The piece is only tangentially about the Clintons.  The Clintons are in this piece so that Tankus can say things like “to the liberal commentariat the status quo is irrevocably right wing and politicians like Obama and Clinton are simply ‘grappling’ with this reality.”

The piece is really about crackpot realism, the idea that across-the-board political reality is based on presuppositions which are accepted by all political players as “realistic,” but which are otherwise completely insane.  The idea behind crackpot realism is to make insane situations seem normal.  Here’s the key sentence at the end:

It’s the realism of the psych ward that says we’ll solve climate change, help ordinary people and build a workable economy by supporting an endless series of politicians who care less and less about the issues that matter and exploit hopeful supporters more and more cynically.

The next sentence is even more compelling:

Admonishing young people for both not voting and desiring anything other than a debt-crippled, climatologically-unstable future feels more like admonishing serfs for being insufficiently pious and for caring about what happens to themselves or their children on this plane of existence. In short, realism is just a code word for “shut up, sit down and be quiet”.

One key understanding to be taken from a recognition of being dominated by  crackpot realism is this: it doesn’t matter what your politicians or their supporters or even the so-called critics say anymore.  Want to know what will happen?  Find out where the money is coming from, and to whom it’s going.  Self-righteous  grandstanding for foreign-policy “realism” amid a pointless war in 135 countries, and further grandstanding for “progressive incrementalism” amid unstopped slow-motion planetary doom, can only add a veneer of pompous-assery to the voices of nice sheltered folks happy to live in mental and physical bubbles.  As the author argues, “When your realism involves supporting a trend that could quite realistically mean the end of human civilization forgive me for holding you in contempt.”

America is still recovering from a 2012 Presidential election in which the winner pulled out the margin of victory by running attack ads against his opponent in the swing states while 57% of the loser’s constituency didn’t care who he was as long as he wasn’t the other guy.  Certainly America’s majority of “apathetic” people have long since come to the conclusion that politics has nothing to offer them if the best the politicians can do is point and say the other guy is worse.  The crackpot realists here all blame the millennials for this state of affairs.  I’m sure that a demographic study of who didn’t vote in 2010 and in 2014 would excuse our political class’s actual behavior in some tidy-looking way.

Tankus’ reality is the background of political discourse against which the masterful stroke of the Sanders advocacy of “political revolution” appears.  You can argue, as one author in did, that “Sanders might be our best candidate, but don’t buy into his masterful pandering about starting a political revolution ,” and that a Presidential candidate isn’t going to start a political revolution.  And that would be realistic.

But accepting such arguments as factually true doesn’t mean a political revolution won’t be necessary.  And none of the arguments comprising the vast sea of political endorsements of what author Nathan Tankus calls “crackpot realism” will make a political revolution any less necessary.  As grim reality moves in one direction while the pronouncements of the chattering classes go another way, the political revolution becomes the only thing worth fighting for.


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