“Tag team is back again.”
People about my age probably remember the ubiquitous pop hit “Woop! There It Is”. The opening line of that song always confused me, because the group Tag Team only had one hit song. How could they be back again? When were they here? Where are we, anyways?
Similarly, the Backstreet Boys’ first hit was “Backstreet is Back” and my immediate response was “Back from where?” But I don’t think any of the teenage girls that plastered their bedroom walls with posters of the popular vocal groups of the late 1990s ever stopped to seriously concern themselves with a question of whether the Boys were returning or only just arriving.
New Yorker magazine actually has a really good story from last year about Max Martin and his unbelievably successful career as a songwriter and producer for American pop acts like the Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Brittany Spears, and so on. Like many Swedish songwriters, he doesn’t worry too much what the lyrics mean, and American audiences don’t particularly notice.
There was one time I was in a store, and I was talking to the salesman, and System of a Down’s “Chopsuey” was playing out of speakers from just behind the sales guy, and it was maybe just a little loud. And I was trying to pay attention to what this guy was saying, but the hearing the screams of “Fah-thahhhh! Fah-thaahhhh!” over the raging guitars I felt a little overwhelmed for a moment. And, you know, on some level, isn’t music supposed to be this sacred thing where people are expressing their inner selves? When Serj Tankian wrote that song, was he thinking about how it would be providing a soundtrack to bland commercial outlets all over the world?
The thing about little moments of cognitive dissonance is that most of the time, people don’t care. As Hume says, reason is slave to passion.
And that is certainly true in politics these days, no? It occurred to me yesterday that the contest shaping up in the Republican nomination race is epic. Trump and Cruz must be wearing asbestos long-johns, because they’re running for President with their pants on fire. The truth is not a thing with either one of those guys. I’m pretty sure Trump could actually talk through a brick wall. Cruz debates like a prize fighter. They’re the product of a long and difficult competition, and they’re very, very good at what they do.
What’s important is not so much the candidates, but the electorate supporting them. Many on the left deride the Republican candidates as stupid or insane, and this demonstrates a blind spot. They don’t believe that conservatives want what they want. They insist that no one seriously thinks any of the present front runners in the GOP race have any chance of being elected, most of all Trump, who has led the race now for months.
But the fact is that Republicans run 31 State legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress. And the fact is they’ve had liberals on the ropes since 1994. And what happened in 1994? Well, for one thing, Hillary Clinton tried to reform health care, with disastrous results. But also, the Republicans won a sweeping victory in the midterm elections, and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House promoting his “Contract with America” legislative program. There was a government shutdown the following year over passage of the Federal budget.
Paul Krugman has a blog post, “Health Reform is Hard,”outlining why Clinton has the better position over Sanders regarding health care reform. Basically, Sanders doesn’t have a plan. He has a rallying cry. The left, progressives especially, want single payer health care. They want to hear a candidate who talks about straight-up socialized medicine. They don’t want to talk about the difficulties of implementation, or possible concerns over its overall effect on health care in the US. It’s “Single payer, ra-ra!” the end.
And Sanders couldn’t get away from that position now if he wanted to. And all the well reasoned critique in the world won’t change that. Because “Single Payer” isn’t a plan, it’s a rallying cry, a symbol of Progressive tribalism. Just the way “Choose your own doctor” was a rallying cry for conservatives back in 1994.
And the thing about those people who made a big deal about choosing their own doctor back in the 1990s, its not like they had a well thought out plan of action on health care reform either. They just didn’t want change. And I think the whole single payer thing is actually pretty similar. The folks calling for single payer health care don’t have a plan to reform anything. Like Max Martin, they’re not really thinking about what they’re saying, they’re just trying to make a popular noise.
The difference is that Martin will tell you that he doesn’t worry about the meaning conveyed by the lyrics of his songs. He doesn’t, and its fine. Part of the aesthetic, really. But if you confront an American with their own lack of thought on policy, they can get very offended. And I can sympathize with that. I have certainly said sharp, mean, angry things in response to criticism or rejection. On the other hand, I think that passion (particularly its domination of reason) in politics should be recognized. Why can we not have single payer? Because people would freak out if you tried to implement a fully nationalized system of health care all at once. They do have socialized medicine in Europe. They have it in Canada. But here in the United States, we don’t. And if you want to know why, there is a slightly endless literature covering just that topic.
I have friends [no I don’t, that’s a lie]* who seem to just want policy to be made correctly. They’re smart people. There’s a smart way to do things. If we just did the smart thing, the right thing, we wouldn’t have all these crazy problems. If we were just smart enough, we could solve the world’s problems and live in peace and harmony with nature. Zizek actually has a really lovely passage in Violence about the word “smart” —
“The new liberal communists are, of course, our usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as their court philosophers, most notably the journalist Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology has become all but indistinguishable from the new breed of anti-globalist leftist radicals…Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalized Struggle against Capitalism, are today’s true conservatives fighting their shadow-theater struggles and out of touch with the new realities. The signifier of this new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is ‘smart’: smart indicates the dynamic and nomadic as against centralized bureaucracy; dialogue and cooperation against hierarchical authority; flexibility against routine; culture and knowledge against old industrial production; spontaneous interaction and autopoiesis against fixed hierarchy.
A few pages later he writes that while “they fight subjective violence, liberal communists are the very agents of the structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence.” They make money by ruining the world in the morning, and spend the afternoon giving it away to the victims. They are changing the world, just try and stop them!