Episode 170: The Shallow, Audience-Flattering Appeal of the ‘Neither Right Nor Left’ Guy

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"Clinton Says He's Not Leaning Left but Taking a New 'Third Way,'" reported The New York Times in 1992. "It's not left. It’s not right. It’s forward!" proclaimed former presidential candidate Andrew Yang during a 2019 Democratic debate. "Neither left nor right," reads the slogan of far-right French political party Front National.

Every few years we hear about a new, trailblazing political vision that transcends traditional party lines, leaning not to the right or the left, but straight ahead. No longer, we're told, must we conform to antiquated political notions of "liberal" or "conservative," nor must we continue to tolerate the corrupt duopoly. Instead, we can embrace a forward-thinking alternative; a third way; a modern, pragmatic and new political paradigm.

But for all the talk of moving "beyond left and right," there sure is a lot of right-wing sentiment. Rhetoric like this almost exclusively comes from neo-fascists, libertarians, and centrists – Glenn Beck, Bill Clinton, Andrew Yang, and the like – and virtually never from figures on the Left. Why is that? What political purpose does the false notion of transcending right and left serve? And why does this hackneyed concept continue to surface and resonate?

On this episode, we examine the vacuous nature of claiming to reject political categories of "right" and "left." We analyze how this rhetoric disguises garden-variety right-wing austerity politics as a novel, barrier-breaking political vision, as well as how it taps into real frustrations with political systems, but obscures and absolves the causes of these frustrations through sleazy, sales-pitch style tactics.

Our guest is writer Osita Nwanevu.

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