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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

The election of Doug Jones in Alabama delivered much joy to Democrats, and they rightly heralded the huge African-American turnout, without which Jones would not have won. But Democrats should have stopped there. Some of their prominent voices went further with the theme that black voters did them a favor.

Have they considered the strong possibility that Alabama’s African-American voters did it for themselves? They had a choice between a man who had convicted Klansmen of murdering black girls at a church and someone who spoke nostalgically of slavery. Let alone that Roy Moore would have tried to take away their health care and Jones will defend it.

Identity politics have long been a vote killer for the Democratic Party. Treating any racial group of voters as a big unthinking lump comes back to bite you. For one thing, it irritates those who don’t feel “thanked.” For another, it empowers self-appointed spokesmen prone to attacking other groups based on race.

During the Women’s March on Washington, “consultant” Angela Peoples carried an insulting sign that read, “Don’t forget: White women voted for Trump.” It was sort of true, in that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. But that means 47 percent of white women did not. And on this subject, why wave that sign in front of a huge mass of white women marching in protest of Trump — other than to get attention?

Someone could have carried an equally obnoxious and unfair sign reading, “Black women who didn’t vote helped elect Trump.” Former Democratic National Chairwoman Donna Brazile writes in her book “Hacks” that “in 2008 and 2012 black women were the highest performing voters for us in the whole country, but in (2016) our numbers fell from 70 percent to 64.”

In a column titled “How Democrats can reward black women right now for their votes in Alabama and Virginia,” Jonathan Capehart lists several African-American lawmakers as potential replacements for the Senate Judiciary Committee seat vacated by Al Franken.

Of course they’re potential replacements. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California would be on anyone’s A-list of top candidates. Why diminish them by turning their possible appointment into some kind of race-based reward?

For identity activists, identity is the only issue. During the 2014 midterm elections, some Latino “spokesmen” put their greatest energies into denouncing President Obama over his policy of deporting many who had entered the country illegally.

A news report at the time quoted young Latino voters in Colorado as saying, “Why should I bother to vote?” Basically asking, “What has Obama done for us?”

For one thing, Obama ran himself ragged to get the Affordable Care Act passed. The health reform benefited Latinos more than any other ethnic/racial group. An added irony is that their low participation helped elect a Congress with many leaders opposed to even the baby steps of immigration reform — normalizing the status of those brought here illegally as children.

Brazile says that one thing she learned from her students at Georgetown University is that younger voters especially dislike identity politics. They felt, she writes, “that Hillary spent too much time trying to appeal to people based on their race, or their gender, or their sexual orientation.”

This is not to downplay issues of civil rights and voter suppression that especially concern minority groups. They must be addressed for the sake of the democracy. But to do that, their voters have to show up for every election.

Jones was put over the top by African-Americans and white suburban women. It couldn’t have happened without both — but others also voted for decency. If you’re going to thank anyone, thank everyone.

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.