The association with the mainstream and centrism in American political life depends on a very selective view of the normal. The current state of affairs in American healthcare, for example, is not remotely left-wing and also not remotely “normal,” compared to other developed countries, especially in terms of our costs and bad outcomes. Normie politics allow for far-left alternatives, if they are presented intelligently. Fetterman, after all, supports Medicare for All, a radical (and badly needed) proposal to rip America’s system for funding healthcare up from its roots. The viability of this proposal is of course fiercely debated, but it enjoys consistently strong polling support, and benefits from its great moral simplicity: tax people more and let the government fund everyone’s healthcare. This is a far-left goal, but it’s quintessentially normie politics. In contrast, I would say that Obamacare’s bewildering subsidies and exchanges and tiers of coverage stand as the antithesis of normie politics. In contrast to normie politics, Obamacare was the apotheosis of wonk politics, politics for people who ride the Acela every day. In other spaces, the normie demand might indeed be more centrist than alternatives, but it’s fundamentally not the centrism that makes politics normie. It’s the constant return to framing that emphasizes the comfortable and the mundane.
Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaigns in 2016 and 2020 failed, but they dramatically outperformed what was expected of an avowed socialist, in no small measure because Sanders is one of the most effortlessly down-to-earth politicians in modern history. Bernie is down-to-earth, but I would phrase Freddie’s point slightly differently. If you reflect on, for instance, the way a Fox News audience in 2016 responded to Bernie, you can see that the key thing is not so much being down-to-earth but rather his communicating something essential to that audience: I care about the same things you do. He cares about people having to work for below-subsistence wages, he cares about people who can’t get access to higher education, he cares about not leaving an environmental mess for our children. Basic stuff. Normie stuff.
Probably the typical Fox viewer is skeptical of Bernie’s proposals for dealing with all that stuff, but they can’t deny that he’s asking the right questions and raising the right issues. Which means that he at least has a chance to win them over to his proposals; whereas when Joe Biden says that “Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time,” he’s just alienating people he can’t afford to alienate – including Black voters who wonder when, exactly, the civil rights of Black Americans got totally sorted out.
As I have said many times, I am dispositionally a conservative, but that just makes me homeless in our current political landscape. If we had a genuine Left — not the virtue-signaling cosplaying on social media with its limited roster of mindless buzzwords, but a Left that draws on its own best history of caring for the insulted and the injured, the downtrodden and the hopeless — this dispositional conservative would find that a lot more appealing than the politics of ressentiment and hatred that the Republican Party now largely embraces. But, you know, if a frog had wings he wouldn’t whomp his ass every time he jumped.