You have to marvel at the thick headedness of the writers, editors and commentators at The New York Times. Even now, in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, growing economic, social and political inequality, raging racist social and political realities, a deepening crisis of the state, an all out attack against the last bastions of social welfare protections for citizens, the near complete corporatisation of most every facet of public life and concern, they still find the time to vomit out garbage.
This is a New York Times ‘fashion critic’ – what the fuck is that? trying her hand at politics. I suppose in a day and age when Ivanka Trump can attend meetings at the G20, why not, you would say. Indeed, you would have a good point. After all, even Chelsea Clinton – this most vacuous and privileged of individuals, made a few million dollars as a pundit on national television.
Regardless, it is amusing to read what I am sure will soon be revealed to be a parody piece perhaps accidentally published a few months too late after April Fools day.
“Clearly a political party is not a fashion company. And the stakes, for all of us, are much higher in the voting booth than in the fitting room. But before everyone takes umbrage at the idea of ever connecting the two or conflating what is often stereotyped as superficial with what is considered substantive, it’s worth remembering what caused the epiphany on both the high street and the haute street: the advent of the educated consumer.
Isn’t that what we want for the electorate, too?”
Clearly…a political party is not a fashion company. Or, should we remind Ms. Friedman, that a political party is also not a profit making corporate enterprise beholden to shareholder value, but ideally a representative of will of the people who participate in it to serve and provide for their interests and their protections. A political party is also not a marketing gimmick, judged merely by its ‘messaging’ or PR campaigns, or brand, but by its ability to represent the citizenry from the smallest town to the largest urban centre. A political party is not a product company, offering a range of colors and styles, or price points and service levels, to meet the needs of various ‘consumers’, but a social organisation that operates as the core of a public democracy, and that represents and negotiates the interests of a vast and diverse set of citizens to whom the party, and the state itself, are beholden and in the service of.
Of course, Ms Friedman’s distorted and ignorant writings are unsurprising given the way she opens her account which quotes one Professor of Economics, and then goes on to suggest that Corbyn, Macron and Trump are merely different brands, and not in fact, the complex reflection of long socio-political histories of three very different and distinct national and political trajectories. No, they are merely 3 options ‘chosen’ by the ‘free consumer’. Or, as she says:
“In all the explanations of voter behaviour that have been floated over the past few months, the one that I can’t quite get out of my mind is a recent comment from Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics, who told The New York Times that “people are switching loyalties, not tribally, but like consumers.”
He was talking about the British election last month and the defection of so many presumed Conservative voters to the rumpled promise of Jeremy Corbyn, but he could just as easily have been talking about the French election and rise of that shiny new brand otherwise known as Emmanuel Macron. Or even the 2016 election in the United States. After all, on each occasion, voters shopped around before committing — or deciding to stay home.”
Erased are the decades of social humiliation and suffering of the vast majority of British citizens under Conservative and New Labour governments. Gone is the unemployment line, the crumbling healthcare, the abandonment of welfare programs for single mothers, the elderly, the sick, the homeless etc, gone is the rising inequality, and the gloating of the bankers over the hungry bodies of the miners, gone are the specific policies and priorities of governments beholden to capital and capitalist, and indifferent to citizens. No, the people ‘merely’ bought a product when they voted, not voices a protest or express and demand for social and economic change. For the likes of Ms. Friedman, Corbyn is merely product ‘at the point of delivery’, when in fact, everything he talked about fundamentally would mean a dismantling of Gucci, and the parceling out of its rubbish products to the many over the few! People chose a politics and infact, refused the branding. The French – not so much. But that is a different issue. Macron is a Gucci ‘manager’ if there ever was one!
The inanity and emptiness of a sentence like ‘…voters shopped around before committing – or deciding to stay home’ is barely worthy of a mention. But I will make one point – the suggestion that citizens are today nothing more than consumers, is the ultimate neoliberal fantasy and false claim. It is little more than the final cul-de-sac into which our new, elite, liberal class has found itself trapped. Stuart Hall captured the mindset and world view of this barbaric class in a series of essays he wrote about New Labour and the rise of neoliberal ‘managerial’ government in the UK, which involves…
”’…the marketisation of the state’s governing and administrative practices, the transformation of public service individuals into ‘entrepreneurial subjects’ and the adaptation of the machinery of the state to the ‘mission’ of ‘entrepreneurial governance’. Central to this reconstruction of governance and the state is the enthusiastic adoption of a ‘Public Choice’ approach to the public sector. This ‘shift[s] the balance of incentives from input to delivery and…in the 1980s led to the contracting out of services, the spread of internal markets and outright privatisation. It is the main source of the drive to reconstitute citizens as consumers” (‘New Labours Double Shuffle’, Stuart Hall)
…and furthermore, as far as the citizen is concerned, our liberal neoliberal ideology…
“…inculcate in the population at large a new habitus; making into a new kind of common sense habits and practices which the new ‘free market’ consumer focused conception of ‘governance’ requires. This approach is effective well outside the machinery of the state. Slowly but surely, everybody – even if kicking and screaming to the end – becomes his/her own kind of ‘manager’. The market and market criteria becomes entrenched as the modus operandi of ‘governance’ and institutional life. Media commentators (Ms Friedman, take note!) and the press know no other language with which to address public issues….the role of the State is not to support the less fortunate or powerful in a society which ‘naturally’ produces huge inequalities of wealth, power and opportunity, but to hep individuals themselves to provide for all their social needs – health, education, environmental, travel, housing, parenting, security in unemployment, pensions in old age etc….” (‘New Labours Double Shuffle’, Stuart Hall)
Only if the entire idea of a republic, of a democracy is now finally dead, that we can actually read such pieces by such ill-equipped and ill-informed and ignorant individuals, and not gasp in horror. It is fundamentally shocking to see how quickly a slight degree of bourgeois comfort has allowed most to jettison their commitment to a public democracy, and public interest. It is surprising to read such entirely wrong essays in our newspaper of note – perhaps not. But it is a stark reminder that the crass and naked capitalism and neoliberal assault on most all our public services that we are currently witnessing, isn’t just an anomaly because of Trump, but at the core of the ideology espoused by the most influential and widely read newspaper in the country. That is, it is mainstream thought.
I bet most people who read this tripe never thought twice about what they were being told. I bet they did in fact think that selecting politicians today is merely an exercise in branding, and not one in politics. I think that Ms Friedman is yet another example of how disconnected, isolated and disdainful our media has become of the citizenry, and of our democracy. Choking on their millions, rent stupid by their mindless consumption and self-righteousness, these commentators have lost all sense of the reality of our lived struggles. Is it any surprise that they never saw the apocalypse coming?
What can’t Gucci teach the democrats? Quite simply: a commitment to public service – to education, to health, to our environment, to consumer protections, to welfare programs to protect the single mothers, the elderly, the homeless, to return to a politics where the state acts as a balance between the few who will always gain under a capitalist system, and the many who will lose, and ensure the resources and wealth is managed to offer the most with more, and create opportunities for those who have much to overcome and yet have much to give. that is, to act in the interest of the people, of the public, and not merely in the interest of profit and rate of return. Ms Friedman needs to shut the hell up, or perhaps, step out of her 5th Avenue Brownstone, and pay attention to the details of how her beautiful Gucci-ridden life is actually enabled.