Friday, March 11, 2016

Conason and Pollitt discovers the Naderbros

One is tempted to at least credit the Clinton campaign with blazing new, innovative trails in cynicism with its endless "Bernie Bro" smear on Sanders and his supporters - but it turns out that Hillary can't even take credit for that.

Joe Conanson has written a ridiculous article about supporters of Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign. And in attempting to defend it, he pointed me to this familiar-sounding piece by 2016 Clintonite Katha Pollitt:
It's perfectly fair to attack Nader. It's even fair to attack him in nasty, personal ways, the way Naderites attack Gore--by, for example, spreading the right-wing disinformation that Gore said he invented the Internet and was the model for Love Story. 
Who are these sinister Naderbros spreading "nasty, personal" attacks about the Democratic frontrunner? Pollitt doesn't say.

This omission is particularly odd in light of history. Fifteen years later, Nader's 2000 campaign is remembered for (among other things) its strident critique of the media's fixation on those frivolous narratives - which it argued came at the expense of a more substantive debate. "Their weakness, they said, was the fault of corporate media," Micah Sifry writes in his history of third party politics, Spoiling for a Fight. In particular, Nader advocates such as Noam Chomsky condemned the "intense media/advertising concentration on style, personality, and other irrelevancies." This was even a major theme in election 2000's iconic music video, Testify, by Nader supporters Rage Against the Machine.

In Crashing the Party, Nader's book on the 2000 election, he devoted an entire chapter to the "Ongoing Non-Debate" in the media:
Since the media controls access to 99 percent-plus of your audience, it is not shocking that 99 percent of most candidates' strategies is born and bred for media play...When Al Gore stands near some national park in his L.L. Bean attire, his handlers know they succeed only if the image and a few choice words are played throughout the country.
Today, the popular stereotype of the Nader voter is of the disaffected, hyper-cynical late nineties radical who had just seen The Matrix and was telling sheeple to take the red pill and look past the spectacle of corporate media and petty partisan tribalism. Nader voters weren't arguing over whether Gore invented the internet - they were too busy insisting that the internet was a product of military-industrial corporate welfare. Nader voters weren't arguing over whether Gore stood to close to Bush at the debates - they were too busy complaining about being excluded from the debates. The last thing one would expect to find any kind of evidence of is Katha Pollitt's Naderites, because he is at complete odds with popular memory and with all of the records that we do have.

Of course, it should be easy enough for Conanson to prove me wrong about all of this. He insists of "Nader and his supporters" that
their defamatory descriptions of the Democratic nominee were echoed across the media by reporters, columnists, and commentators who knew better - from the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to the cable networks.
This is awfully specific, so one would think that he could, say, point to a particular NYT or WP article at the time and show they "echoed" attacks specifically attributable to Naderites about "Gore's earth tones suits and the preppy character he did or didn't inspire in a romance novel". If Conanson's only evidence for this is the Pollitt quote, is he really just using her vague claim about them spreading "spreading the right-wing disinformation" to incriminate Nader supporters for any appearance those narratives made in any major publication? Is there even one through-line of specific evidence for any of this, anywhere?

Because if not, the Naderbro starts to sound a lot like the Berniebro: a line of flimsy, unsubstantiated innuendo that elite media centrists use to smear left-flank challenges to establishment Democrats. It is indeed "no accident", as they say - and as Conason puts it - that this line of attack has appeared once again.