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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Bernie Sanders helped elect Donald Trump, and for that he will never be forgiven. But give this to Sanders: He’s totally right that Democrats must drop their obsession with identity politics if they want to regain power.

To concede that white working-class Americans have problems needing to be addressed does not preclude acknowledging the justified complaints of various minorities — ethnic, racial and gender-based. But this fixation on identity groups causes two kinds of harm.

One, it devalues candidates from these groups by turning their contests into referendums on their biology rather than intellect. The reportage following the recent wave of Democratic wins centered not on these candidates’ talents but on their identity — a transgender woman chosen for the Virginia Legislature, transgender people of color joining the Minneapolis City Council, a Sikh made mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, and a lesbian becoming mayor of Seattle.

Does this demonstrate that ordinary voters are not so prejudiced as some claim? To some extent perhaps. More importantly, it suggests that the voters recognized the intelligence and leadership qualities of Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, Phillipe Cunningham, Ravinder Bhalla and Jenny Durkan

This points to the second harm done by identity politics. They turn elections into moral judgments on voters and their attitudes toward certain groups. Why did many white workers who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 switch to Trump in 2016? Did they suddenly turn racist? I don’t think so.

After this year’s elections, Sen. Kamala Harris of California proclaimed that “Democrats won incredible victories by embracing our diversity and rejecting the politics of hate.” Bah.

Again, those triumphs reflected strong candidates and an electorate that in fact didn’t seem to place much importance on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity. Must we assume, meanwhile, that all who voted otherwise were consumed with hate? Come on. That’s emotional extortion, and it turns voters off.

I voted twice for Obama because he was the better candidate, never because he was African-American. And my support for Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with her being a woman. I actually resent calls to vote on the bases of race and gender. Black, Latino and gay friends feel likewise, seeing condescension in appeals to sympathy for what they have no control over instead of respect for what they do.

Democrats don’t have to go on about how much more sensitive they are to the dignity of various minorities. Right-wingers are doing the work for them with their creepy attacks on gays, immigrants, African-Americans, religions and so on.

But condemning identity politics threatens the livelihood and importance of their peddlers. And that’s why they buried Mark Lilla in crazed charges of racism over his book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

The New Yorker‘s David Remnick asked Lilla whether in-your-face protests by antifa types and campus identity groups aren’t essential to confronting social injustice. Lilla sees the point Remnick’s making but comes back to the point he’s making: Without power, Democrats can’t do anything for the overlooked, the oppressed or anyone else.

Steve Bannon famously said, “If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

The man is appalling, but these words are on the mark. Sanders does Democrats a service by agreeing with them from the left. Identity politics are the road to political oblivion.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

 

 

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19 responses to “Democrats Must Drop Identity Politics — Now”

  1. dbtheonly says:

    It is easy to call “All Lives Matter” a racist organization because it was created specifically to counter, denigrate, or obscure the issue BLM addresses.

    One indeed would have to be blind willfully not to see the particular risks run by Black Folks, while driving, while banking, or even walking on the street.

    The obsfucation of tha intent, willfully by the RWMO, negligently with the Lamestream Media, is an issue which might have been addressed. It’s been a year. It’s time to get over what Hillary might have done better.

    It is important to tell Americans what the Democratic Party’s vision is. It’s important to be positive as well as negative about Trump and the Republicans.

  2. Dominick Vila says:

    An important factor for Hillary’s defeat was, indeed, our identity focus. Issues that represent the core values championed by the Democratic party, and most people with a sense of civility and humanity, are offensive or threatening to millions of Americans. The DNC decision to showcase a Muslim couple at the convention, our focus on equality, the need to respect the rights of everyone, the need for fairness and long lasting solutions to the illegal immigration problem, even consumer and environmental protections were viewed as threatening by many white Americans. We must find a balance to ensure all segments of our society feel protected and represented, without abandoning our core values, or we risk more political defeats by those who are convinced that the Democratic party is not listening to them and does not care about the problems that afflict them. That’s why catchy phrases, such as the MAGA and America first, are so appealing to so many white men.

    • Theodora30 says:

      I disagree that identity politics is why Hillary lost. The author actually says that it drowned out her messages about jobs. That is not what the post election media analysis shows. The Shorenstein center did an in depth study and found that the media gave free coverage of many of Trump’s speeches and Bernie’s after they stopped ignoring him. but not Hillary’s. There was almost no coverage of her policy positions but tons of coverage of her guest need up scandals.
      https://shorensteincenter.org/news-coverage-2016-presidential-primaries/

      Recently Jill Abramson wrote about Steve Bannon getting the NY Times and Washington Post to report the “facts” from his employee Peter Schweitzer’s book “Clinton Cash ” without fact checking its bogus claims. That happened in the spring of 2015 permanently lowering Hillary’s trustworthiness rating which had been strong before that happened. Bannon has bragged about this as a big coup and he is dead right about that.
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/08/robert-mercer-offshore-dark-money-hillary-clinton-paradise-papers
      I keep wonder if Democrats will ever wise up and realize they have to stop allowing the media – mainstream media – to play along with right wing efforts trashing their candidates. He media savaged Gore but praised the clueless Bush as “more fun to have a beer with”. (Read Vanity Fair’s “Going after Gore”.)
      They also need to find a way to punch back against Right wing propaganda outlets and get around or breaks through the bubble they have created.
      If Democrats got fair, substantive, treatment from media instead of horse race coverage and faux balance our politics would be a lot healthier.

      • FireBaron says:

        Theodora, while I, along with the majority of Americans, actually voted for her, you have to recognize she is the most singular polarizing personality in politics in the last part of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries. Her entire attitude presented herself as the ONLY viable candidate – first in 2008, and then in 2016. Add to that her intimidation that kept other A-List Democrats from even hinting at a run left her with only a single viable opponent, and that was someone who didn’t even consider himself a Democrat. No, Hillary sowed the seeds of her own defeat back in 1993 and had kept that plot of land rich and fertile since.
        On the other hand, Elizabeth Warren knew the time was not right for her. However, I can see her as one of two potential A-Listers, the other being Kamela Harris. With good luck…

        • Theodora30 says:

          When Hillary left the State Department and when she declared her candidacy she had an approval rating of nearly 70% of Americans. That would not have been the case if she was the most polarizing candidate in politics.
          https://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/01/17/wsjnbc-poll-hillary-clinton-exits-with-69-approval-rating/
          Her popularity dropped after the deeply dishonest Bannon “Clinton Cash” hit job. Then the ridiculous email investigations piled on. (Powell not only used his private email account he admits her had every last one of his emails destroyed – deliberately – in direct violation of then FOIA. If Goodyear had really been concerned about emails he would have investigated Saint Colin, too.) Comey then added to the damage with his two rule breaking, unethical interventions while he covered up the fact that Trump was being investigated for colluding with the Russians.
          The right wing will engage in any kind of dirty tricks to destroy Democratic challengers. What drives me crazy is that the mainstream “liberal” media plays along in far too many of their smears. If you have not read it, I beg you to read Joe Conason’s and Gene Lyon’s extremely well researched book “The Hunting of the President”. It show just how far – extremely far – Republican operatives are willing to go to defeat Democrats. If you thin Kamal Harris or Elizabeth Warren – or any other Democratic will be immune to this kind of trashing by the right and their mainstream media enablers you have not been paying attention.

      • Dominick Vila says:

        I don’t believe I said that identity politics was the reason Hillary lost. I said it was a factor. Fair or not, the media focuses on whatever sells, and unfortunately complex solutions to complex problems, regardless of how viable those solutions may be, do not sell. A large segment of our population is more impressed with simple solutions, even if they are totally unrealistic, and catchy phrases, than detailed plans. The first thing we must do is convey a message that appeals to the average American in a way that catches their attention.

        • Theodora30 says:

          Actually when Bill Clinton was President the media panned a State of the Union speech that he gave that was full of policy proposals. I liked the speech and was shocked when influential anchors like Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw panned the speech, calling it boring, laundry list, small bore, etc. Then the overnight ratings came in and showed that the public had loved the speech. So I never buy the claim that policy does not sell. That is a self fulfilling media prophecy.

          • Dominick Vila says:

            I remember President Clinton’s speeches, and never thought they were boring or based on empty promises. Unfortunately, Hillary’s speeches, especially those focused on solutions to the plight of displaced blue collar workers, coal miners, and other segments of our workforce afflicted by new technologies, processes, or energy sources, fell on deaf ears. I loved them, but many among us chose facile promises from a charlatan instead of solutions that required some effort on their part. BTW, I voted for Hillary, not only because she was the most qualified and experienced, but because I supported the solutions she offered. My point is that a fairly significant segment of our population is more inclined to react positively to catchy slogans, cute retorts, and even expressions of prejudice and hatred, than pragmatic and doable policy proposals.

          • Theodora30 says:

            They did not fall on deaf ears, they fell on almost no ears because the mainstream media which repeatedly showed Trump’s campaign speeches – live and with no editorial comment except on crowd size and enthusiasm did not show Hillary’s speeches. The Shorenstein post election evaluation of the media coverage of both the campaign and primaries makes that clear.

      • idamag says:

        It is true that the media, being owned by the few, and deregulated played a large part in it. The Democrats need to work on overcoming this problem. To many, Hillary was politics as usual. I am not saying this to be against Hillary. She might have stopped talking to you and me and started talking to the majority. Studies show that the majority of Americans read at 7th grade level.

        • Theodora30 says:

          I live in the South and I know a lot of Trump supporters. She could have talked until she was blue in the face and they would not have heard her because they listen to Fox. And even if they didn’t the Shorenstein data clearly shows that the mainstream media would not have communicated her message about jobs, education, student loans, health care to them because they were obsessed with overblown scandals ( they covered her scandals more than they did Trumps!) and faux balance.

  3. I of John says:

    Nonsense, all politics is identity politics. The GOP won on the just that, white identity.

    • Theodora30 says:

      Exactly and whites are going to be a minority soon. Democrats need to focus on getting out the vote, making sure their voters have the ID they need if that is an issue, etc.

  4. idamag says:

    I have been screaming this for years. I used to go to the Democratic meetings and when I suggested a different approach I was told, “We don’t do it that way.” Okay, do it your way, it’s working isn’t it? I don’t advocate, in any way, being hateful or using ugly rhetoric and lies -,let’s leave that to the republican party.

  5. dtgraham says:

    Froma Harrop — “Bernie Sanders helped elect Donald Trump, and for that he will never be forgiven.”

    Anybody can be forgiven for ignoring the most fact-challenged National Memo columnist of them all after that sentence. I started taking the idiot child of the National Memo with a grain of salt back in 2015. Bernie Sanders never told Democrats to stop caring about diversity and appealing to it. He simply said that it wasn’t enough by itself.

    Here are the only words on the topic from Bernie that Froma Harrop has somehow twisted into Bernie saying that Democrats, “must drop their obsession with identity politics.” He never said that, but she’s clearly implying that he did.

    From Bernie Sanders:

    “It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of
    discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the
    political process—Latinas, African-Americans, Native Americans—all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.”

    “But it is not good enough for somebody to say, “Hey, I’m a Latina. Vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country and is going to take on big-money interests.”

    “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman. Vote for me,’” he said. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

    “One of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.”

    — Bernie Sanders

    That’s a significant difference from, “Democrats must drop their obsession with identity politics.” A little nuanced perhaps, but still very different.

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