Higher Broderism in 2017
Both Sides Don’t Do It
When I personally began following politics as a young 11 year old seeing the Republicans impeach a sitting president for a blowjob (an action I did not know the specifics of for years), the political media was a wildly different beast. There was no political internet media to speak of, all radio was conservative, and the idea of even a left leaning cable news outlets was a figment of our collective imagination. A specialized and professionalized class of reporters from “good schools” served as gatekeepers of information, and the gatekeepers were in control.
From a class perspective, this particular era of professional class journalists served a unique purpose. In the pre-watergate era, the profession of journalist was a decidedly working class and unromanticized profession. A journalist was the common person (man, let’s be honest) on the street within a similar class of their readership. Now, the mainstream journalist was not the working stiff who took a few community college classes but instead had at least two degrees, lived a nice suburban life, and socialized among the similar upper-middle class stratum they were educated in. The perspective role of journalism changed as the job itself became professionalized within the framework of larger newspapers and network television. That professionalization, as with much educational codification of credentialism, deeply affected the class perspective of journalists and eventually led to the situation we found ourselves in the late 90’s and 2000’s.
For those of you who followed political media in this time period, there was nothing more ideal than a bipartisan bill to cut benefits for poor people and seniors or Democrats and Republicans getting together to create the conditions for the world’s most vicious terrorist organization after causing the deaths of over half a million civilians. This was, after all, the era of “compassionate conservatism” and “tough-on-crime liberals.”
All the while, the conservative movement was quickly replacing and semblance left of moderation within the Republican party, pushing the Overton window beyond even maniacally conservative policies of Reagan. People noted these shifts, but there was a constant pushback, a pushback strategically used to dissuade critics and observers from politicizing these real changes: Both Sides Do It.
The ideological formation of “Both Sides Do It” was commonly referred to Higher Broderism, after the late Washington Post columnist David Broder. Broder was the archetypical Beltway pundit, quick to praise moves toward the center and the status quo. This was the crowd who loved that Michael Bloomberg, then a Republican, would raise money for Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat. Their values system is not based in a particular set of policy goals or a philosophy of moderation like a Beltway zen master. Higher Broderism values centrism in and of itself, the way your libertarian co-worker values “freedom” or your Orthodox Jewish neighbor refuses to turn the lights on on the sabbath.
The influence of Higher Broderism is felt constantly within political commentary. When we see John McCain still get glowing reviews from Beltway the press when he “heroically” flies from a medical emergency to take away people’s healthcare, the Higher Broderism perspective would be that to bring up the fact that 24 million people will lose their healthcare almost immediately because of this law would be uncouth and partisan. It would be both disrespectful and, in the parlance of modern Higher Broderism types, too ideological. This sense of non-ideology is at the heart of the neoliberalization of Western politics over the last 40 years, as though you can view society with no influence from your peers, inheritances, and privileges.
Fast forward to 2017, and we are feeling the effects of the Pasokification of the American electorate. Corporate power has continued its consolidation within their respective markets, with massive tech firms like Amazon swallowing up other massive firms like Whole Foods, alongside a continuing consolidation of media conglomerates contuining to merge with each other to form one giant company that touches everything you see, hear, or eat. This consolidation causes massive repercussions for the lives of average people, from stagnant wages, unnecessarily inhumane medical costs, and a political system used to enforce monopolistic choices made by corporations. Beyond the momentous horror of the Trump administration, we are experiencing the rampage of policies made possible by the “Both Sides Do It” crowd.
When your highest belief is based on a particular place in the current Beltway discourse, your support is easily gamed out by moving the “Overton Window,” a helpful framework for understanding the shifts in American politics over the last century. The Overton Window is the spectrum of political debate in a society that can move and shift over time, especially through particular groups pushing the debate to further edges of the spectrum. The conservative revolution that happened in the Republican Party moved the Overton Window towards conservative policy. For more context on this shift, I highly recommend Rick Perilstein’s histories on the subject (Before the Storm, Nixonland, and The Invisible Bridge). By shifting towards conservative policies, the center of the Overton Window is in a radically different place than where it started.
The rise of “anti-establishment” as a political buzzword has lead to a new kind of false equivalency, the equation of Jacobin reading socialism dorks with the Neo-Nationalist chuckle head Milo fans. The desire for an Alt-Right equivalent of the left is palpable, inadvertently proven by the existence of the article “Why The Alt-Left Is a Problem Too.” Both of these “alt” designations are inherently essentializing, missing the factionalism of the alt-right between the Odinist, white nationalists who practice the religion of the norse pantheon, and the Islamophobic “classical liberals” who view Sam Harris and Dave Rubin to be some kind of intellectuals. While there are numerous idiots and creeps who voted for Bernie Sanders, to equate the vileness of people who want to divide the world up into homogeneously racialized nations with idiot stoners who have a shitty analysis as to why they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton is just laughable.
Yet, the urge towards equivalency is strong. The centrist political project has been used and abused by the right wing for generations, shifting the policy debate to the right and bringing them with us. That is why the politics of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn seem so far left to the pundit class yet are immensely popular and mainstream to voters. The desires and wishes for the massive majority of voters in Western democracies are not that far from where they were generations ago, but their place in the Overton Window has changed immensely.
Next time you hear someone speak of the “Horseshoe” theory of politics, throw the horseshoe back at them. As the spectrum of debate moves, we must remember that the best and most resilient politics are based on beliefs in policy goals, not their relationship to a mythical place on a number line.