NDP supporters have a case of "the s’pose’das”- The Springfield Files
I moved left from Canada, and they think I’m a socdem, eh.
The Springfield Files is a series of Medium articles tenuously connecting classic Simpsons bits and lines to different (mostly political) concepts, ideas, trends or whatever I happen to feel like.
In the endlessly quotable and highly rated episode of The Simpsons “You Only Move Twice,” the family moves to Cyprus Creek after Homer is offered a job from affable supervillain Hank Scorpio. Applying the episode to relatively modern political context was done in a 2016 article for The Ringer by Alan Siegel, which is a fantastic piece that you should definitely read.
Recalling the plot of the episode is almost like explaining Batman’s origin story at this point. We all know how it goes: “So long Stinktown!” “Ever seen a guy say good-bye to a shoe?” “Oh the hammock district!” “But Homer, on your way out, if you want to kill somebody, it would help me a lot.” Laughter ensues, credits are cued, memes are born.
One moment that speaks to me more and more lately stems from the B-plot (C-plot? I think it gets more focus than Lisa’s allergies or Marge’s drinking) where Bart is placed into the town’s new school and is quickly shown that Springfield’s public school system has failed him. After the fourth grade teacher learns he can’t read cursive, he places him in the remedial class, which Bart then lambasts. This and the portrayal of an adjusted learning environment for those unable to follow traditional structures is a rather light filtration of writer John Swartzwelder’s conservative views on education that at least warrants an eye-brow raise.
But when Bart insists to the teacher that he’s supposed to be in the fourth grade, she responds back with an iconic phrase.
“Sounds to me like someone’s got a case of ‘the s’pose’das.’”
- Unnamed Blonde Teacher
In this scene, Bart is framed as the correct one, while the teacher is cold to his feelings and comfort. But is this right? Bart has been diagnosed with ADD in another episode seasons later. When his first days at school are revealed it’s tragically shown that Bart was never really given a chance to succeed from day one. Bart needs some sort of accommodation, whether this admittedly hilarious version is the right kind is irrelevant. Springfield Elementary has never been shown to be flush with cash or particularly attentive to its student’s education. Bart might “s’pose’da” be in the fourth grade, but the material reality of his situation is that he does not meet its qualifications at this school, and would benefit from an environment more suited to his learning style. He chooses instead to believe the comforting notion that Springfield Elementary’s fourth grade education for him is enough, but it clearly isn’t.
That’s all well and good, but isn’t this article about the NDP?
- You, presumably.
Strange, I shouldn’t have been able to hear that. But fair question, what does this irreverent half-joke from a beloved Simpsons episode that aired 26 years ago have to do with the modern Canadian political climate? Well to put it bluntly, those who still defend and support the federal NDP at this point are suffering from a terminal case of “the s’pose’das.”
It hasn’t been covered nearly enough, but the federal NDP has been going through a bit of a rough patch. They only gained one seat overall in the 2021 federal election, have failed to hold BC NDP leader John Horgan to task after three years of violating Indigenous land rights (despite efforts from some MPs and MPPs), shown a complete dismissal of people’s criticisms and party leader Jagmeet Singh’s eye-roll worthy influencer presence finally carried over into an ethics scandal.
One of the more galling actions from a party MP came from Matthew Green bravely taking a stand and proudly declaring that every tax dollar handed out to Canadian businesses through the CEWS wage subsidy needs to be clawed back, happy to ignore that the NDP is the reason the CEWS gave business owners a 75% wage subsidy.
A combination of these factors and a rocking of antisemitism in the party have led to a trend in the online sphere of members leaving. Whether these examples of people leaving the party constitutes a “crisis” remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the NDP are not on their way up. Socialists should be in a movement that caters to the needs and aims they have.
I actually wrote the majority of this article before the NDP agreed to support the Liberals through confidence votes until 2025 for… something? A vague promise of dental care for kids under 12 (all provinces have this) then a vague promise of pharmacare that consists of… something. Meanwhile, spending more on the military sounds great to them, actually. Even though it doesn’t. What a mess.
What does this mean for Canadian leftists? Well, as it’s meant since the origins of the NDP and the CCF’s support of a Liberal-Tory Coalition in the 1945 Canadian federal election, wins for the party, but not for the workers.
But this is hardly new behaviour from a party continually troubled by its lack of commitment to true socialist goals. So why is it that so-called leftists flock to the NDP in droves?
The issue is two-fold: First, capitalist media and avenues for electoral politics available to left-of-centre Canadians who want to get into politics funnel them into the NDP or the Greens. Lately ,the Greens publicly and constantly appear to be the verge of collapse, so the NDP is the place to be.
Second, and more pertinent to this piece, is that current NDP supporters entice support from emerging political Canadians by constantly talking about the NDP’s potential and what they’re supposed to be doing.
Put bluntly, the NDP is less a political party of cohesive values and plans of action and more of a brand. Sick of Liberals? Sick of Conservatives? Drink cool, refreshing New Democratic Pepsi! Who cares if it’s actually good for you? Better than Royal Conservatives or Liberals Coca-Cola (they’re both red and yes this metaphor fell apart immediately).
The unspoken assumption here is that the party where one in 10 MPs are landlords is supposed to be the party for the working class. Not only that, but as long as they have dedicated followers who tell us all how it’s supposed to be done that excuses how it is being done.
This isn’t as clean-cut as I’m making it out to be. There are clear critiques of the party from within at times, and of course a tenuous simpsons meme is not apt to fully explore this phenomenon. But at this point, what positives can be said about the NDP? I have yet to see any that truly outweigh the negatives.
Leading up to the 2021 Canadian Federal Election, NDP members and their ilk extolled the virtues of the party, how good they’d be for Canada and how bad the Liberals and Conservatives are. Despite this, the party failed to make any meaningful gains, stalled, and have been trudging along at a suboptimal rate.
But you wouldn’t know from the die-hard support NDP members and voters that continue to cheerlead the party. Spend any time online and you’ll come across “orange emoji” personalities (usually accompanied by a rose, the sign of a democratic socialist), discussing how the NDP is the party to support against all others. The same folks who fall for a PR story about how Singh and Trudeau bonded over fatherhood may not make a Venn Diagram a perfect circle, but the overlap is significant. They may have problems, they’ll say, but think about what they should do and you’ll convince yourself it will be better. I may be in the Leg-Up program now, but I’m supposed to be in the fourth grade.
Lenin (yes I’m going there) was no fan of social-democrats as we understand them today, and wrote about the usefulness of operating purely within an electoral system in a Letter to the Workers of Europe and America:
“[I]t would be a shameful betrayal of the proletariat, deserting to its class enemy, the bourgeoisie, and being a traitor and a renegade to confine oneself to bourgeois parliamentarism, to bourgeois democracy, to present it as ‘democracy’ in general, to obscure its bourgeois character, to forget that as long as capitalist property exists universal suffrage is an instrument of the bourgeois state.”
Long-story short, acting as though socialists have a home in a capitalist party, if only the party did this thing I suggested, kneecaps the greater socialist movement. In this way the NDP acts as controlled opposition, siphoning political energy and will from more productive avenues like mutual aid networks, tenant organizing, radicalizing/forming unions, and demonstrations against war.
In other words, the diagnosis came in, it seems these people have come down with a case of the s’pose’das.