Matt Taibbi Declares Centrism Dead, The French Have Other Ideas

In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s victory over Theresa May and her Tories in England, some liberals who either sided with, or had sympathy with, the American far left, were quick to re-litigate the Democratic primaries:

Corbyn and Labor gained 29 seats in Parliament, the party’s best showing since the days of Tony Blair, resulting in a hung Parliament, but it’s a stretch to say that the Brexit-driven results mean that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump. The differences in the US/UK electoral systems aside, electing an avowed socialist like Corbyn President or PM in any major G8 nation is a tough hill to climb. (Also, Corbyn isn’t Prime Minister – to quote Pulp Fiction, “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet.”)

But this didn’t stop Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi from celebrating Corbyn’s victory with his June 13th article, “Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism.”

Voters for decades were conned into thinking they were noisome minorities whose best path to influence is to make peace with the mightier “center,” which inevitably turns out to support military interventionism, fewer taxes for the rich, corporate deregulation and a ban on unrealistic “giveaway” proposals like free higher education. Those are the realistic, moderate, popular ideas, we’re told. But it’s a Wizard of Oz trick, just like American politics in general. 

Taibbi, while not the equivalent of the insane “alt-left” I wrote about recently, has displayed uneven judgment over the past year. He bristled at his publication’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the primaries, has denounced as “mass hysteria” much of the Democrats’ accusations of Russian collusion, and last September, he penned a detached and troubling column claiming that the media’s “false equivalency” between Trump and Hillary was a myth, never mind this now-infamous Gallup word-cloud of which words the media used with regards to the two candidates.

“I can already hear the cries of ‘both-sidesism,'” Taibbi writes in his newest piece, as he claims that, since Democrats and Republicans are alike are responsible for the have/have-not culture that now defines American social life, people are turning to ideologies that once seemed too extreme to gain traction as “the center” leaves more behind than it used to. 

The roles of Democrats and Republicans in undoing financial regulations and leading to the lopsided wealth gap in this country can and should be debated as we rebuild from the financial crisis. And it’s good to see millennials become less afraid of “socialism” as a dirty word, supporting policies that once seemed unfeasible, like single payer. But Taibbi and others are way too early to declare centrism over. Especially because, a few days after his article was published, this happened:

That giant blob of yellow up there represents the majority in French Parliament won by Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the March (La REM) party in their elections this weekend. 

Macron, little-known before this year, has proved himself one of the shrewdest politicians of our time. La REM didn’t even exist a year and a half ago, and now he has carte blanche to enact his agenda in a way no American politician has had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. What’s more, 47% of La REM’s candidates were women, many of whom had no political experience before this, demonstrating how La REM values inclusivity above ideological purity tests. 

Macron’s political views were shaped by his philosophy teacher, Paul Ricoeur, whose work I’ve been reading to understand the new French President. Ricouer, of the same generation but less well-known as Foucault and Derrida, was the epitome of the pragmatism that the American center-left seeks to emulate. His key phrase, “at the same time,” reminds us that in order to find solutions, we have to reconcile contradictory beliefs. We see his influence in Macron’s willingness to work with politicians on the other side of the aisle, and his decision to form La REM, rather than run under one of France’s established parties.

Taibbi has yet to write about, or even tweet about, the French elections which put to bed his argument that the center cannot hold. Although I will be happy if Corbyn replaces Theresa May, I have much more confidence in Macron as a role model for future United States leaders. For the first time in a while, Americans have reason to be envious of the French. 

Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.