The failure of identity politics: is this really that complex?

November 20th, 2016 at 12:04 pm

There are a couple of articles in yesterday’s NYT about the failure of identity liberalism in the Trump upset. Mark Lilla argues that when Democrats break the world down into the groups they’re for and those they’re against, they lose a core value of liberalism: we’re in this together. They end up spending too much time arguing about transgender bathrooms and too little on factory workers displaced by globalization.

Ross Douthat makes some similar points, but ends up arguing that while identity politics can lead a party to take its eyes off the ball, being part of an identifiable group—including the group that embraces identity politics—is a necessary human condition, and while Democrats might be better off worrying more about jobs than bathrooms, their best solution is to expand their circle to include more identities. (I think that’s a fair summary. Douthat’s piece is densely argued; I feel like I need to know more political sociology to fully grasp where he’s coming from.)

OK. But she did win the popular vote, and demographics are on the side of progressives. And it’s easy and tempting to over-interpret one election with a couple of very unique candidates, one of which was a solid symbol of the establishment in an anti-establishment moment.

Still, these arguments make some good points and are worth cogitating over. Having done so, here’s where I come out:

Maybe this isn’t really that complicated. It’s seems both morally wrong and politically misguided to suggest: “we’re for these groups, but not for those groups,” especially when your party’s values and goals share common ground with “those groups.” The progressive tent surely cannot accommodate the wealthy who want to get rid of the estate tax or racists, sexists, and xenophobes. But it can just as surely accommodate displaced manufacturing workers who justly feel that their opportunity set—and more grippingly, that of their kids—is collapsing in on them. Of course, that implies we have a policy agenda that convincingly speaks to them, which we do not, and that really is a serious shortcoming of the progressive status quo.

Meanwhile, the core of our work continues to be supporting a functional, amply funded government sector that offsets market failures (which we see around more corners than do conservatives), provides social insurance, health care, labor standards, and anti-poverty and counter-cyclical policies while pulling for full employment and, all the while, relentlessly crusading against racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

We should and will continue to carefully dissect the entrails of the disastrous election. But the path forward may ultimately not be that complex.

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41 comments in reply to "The failure of identity politics: is this really that complex?"

  1. Bob says:

    Thank you for reminding the Democratic Party that it should consider representing citizens outside the traditional Democratic portfolio of big banks, privileged professionals, international corporations, identity groups based on gender, race, country of origin, etc.

    I looked up the forty year old term “limousine liberal”. It first popped up in 1969 to describe incumbent Democratic New York Mayor John Lindsay. Liberals like Lindsay were accused of catering to disadvantaged groups lower in the socioeconomic order but ignoring lower and middle class worker/taxpayers who paid for it all, all the while riding around in limousines and private jets.

    “Limousine liberal” perfectly describes the Democratic Party today. The middle can let Democratic snobbery and hypocrisy slide by in years when they aren’t under too much pressure themselves, but that is not the case today. They are hurting. Calling them deplorables was breathtakingly tone deaf.

    I am a minor functionary in the DFL here in conservative outstate Minnesota. Hillary’s conventional limousine liberal campaign cost us several good down ballot candidates, including incumbents. We spent a lot of time and money on these races, some of it mine, and I am still furious about it. I think a movement in side the party but outside the Democratic power structure is the only cure. The Party hasn’t changed in the four decades since Lindsay, and it won’t change on its own now. I envision a pressure group within the party but with its own organization, like labor unions once were. The two party duopoly is so embedded that any reform must come from within, not from without.


    • wendy beck says:

      If I’m not mistaken, John Lindsay was a Republican when he became mayor of New York. He may have been a “limousine liberal”, but he was not a Democrat, at least to my memory. I’m a New York native of a certain age and my memory is pretty good.

      OK. I looked it up on my Wikipedia memory. Voted in as mayor in 66 and served till 73. Only switched from Republican to Democrat in ’71.


    • BrianL says:

      the problem with preaching truth to power is when rampant virtue signaling communicates that you look down your nose at anyone who works for a living lol. identity politics helps raise AWARENESS and that is important! but tribalism has gotten completely out of control, with hashtags like #DisabledWhiteTears trending on twitter and feminists writing articles decrying Wikipedia as dominated by men, when all of its writers are volunteers.. ? This kind of thing alienates people.

      Poor people being told to lean on their white privilege to get by are just going to get angry. We have CLASS system problems far more deeply entrenched than racism or sexism- so deep in fact that the classist first world uses racism and sexism to take the focus off where it belongs – accountability of those who have everything to pay back into the system, and places where the system is horrendously stacked against those who have nothing to ensure they stay right where they are.

      Now that’s not to say hard work doesn’t play a part- all society can do is make sure nobody has their foot on your throat, after that it’s up to YOU to take advantage of the opportunities that are given.

      So ID politics and newfangled moral panic over things like LGBTQIAKP have to die off for us to really move forward. The term “social weightlessness” refers to academia’s frustration and their identity theories not being born out in real life- ID politics is why Clinton lost. And she got her ENTIRE popular vote margin from California, so we can stop saying she won the popular vote when 49 other states added together went for Trump.

      Things must change but we have to make allies of enemies or nothing ever will. The only thing I know for certain right now is that if the ultra Left keep pushing ID politics they’ve only just begun that losing streak.


      • Jonathan S Hanemann says:

        ” identity politics helps raise AWARENESS and that is important!”

        No, identity politics DOESN’T do that. It divides a culture into warring groups. In fact, that’s its primary purpose.

        Stop being naive.


  2. Smith says:

    Clinton ran the dumbest campaign ever. After nearly losing the nomination to a populist outsider who ran best with white voters, she lost the general election to a populist outsider who ran best with white voters. She did this by moving further away from a campaign that addressed the concerns of those voters who already showed a disinclination to favor her campaign. She ran the opposite of a Clinton triangulation campaign.
    Worried about immigration? I want more immigration.
    Concerned about globalization? I say we can’t reverse globalization.
    Have doubts about terror attacks? I was Secretary of State at the birth of the Syria, Lybia, and Isis crisis.
    Think the economy isn’t great? I say it is great already.
    Do you want change? I’m the continuity candidate.

    Both Obama and Clinton promised more of the same. Winning the popular vote, and losing Florida (and thus the election) by 1%, or Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, again by only 1%, is annoying only because it shouldn’t have been close. What was Clinton’s slogan? “I’m with her.” A more personal, selfish, tone deaf, phrase could not encapsulated the election any better. The two opposing tag lines personified the choice. Again, Obama after claiming he wanted to be transformative in the way Reagan was, never captured the urgency of addressing record foreclosures, jobs, and Republican obstructionism. The drag of sequestration easily could have accounted for the election loss. But the Federal employee wage freeze, the unfilled NLRB positions were signs of what was wrong.
    If Democrats knew they could lose the election, what would the fight over the Supreme Court nomination have looked like? The Greeks had a word for this, hubris.


    • Moo cow says:

      The slogan was “Stronger Together.”


      • Amy Y. says:

        “Stronger Together”? I would go one step further than Smith:
        Worried about immigration? You’re a racist!
        Have doubt about terrorist attacks? You’re xenophobic! We deserve to be attacked! America is evil!
        Concerned about globalization? No countries, open borders, the rich should support everyone!
        Think the economy isn’t great? Then you’re a selfish, horrible person for not wanting to give up more and more in taxes!
        Do you want change? We have no end game and don’t know what version of “equality” will satisfy us!
        The grosteque one-downsmanship became a parody of itself. Who was triggered harder, who was the bigger better louder victim? There was no “together” in Stronger Together. If you’re not with us, marching in lockstep with the liberal thought police, then you’re a racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, blah blah blah yawn. The Dems truly were (and probably still are) tone-deaf. I guess they better commence to telling half the nation how horrible they are in the hopes of shaming and bullying them into voting for them next time. Yeah, that’ll work.


        • BrianL says:

          you summed it up perfectly. the party i vote with my whole life has gone completely off the rails and plunged into an abyss of identity politics that only campus protesters and social media could relate to.

          if they keep this up they’ll never win again.


          • Jonathan S Hanemann says:

            If this is the case, kick the loony left off the grown-ups table and take your party back.

            It’s up to you.


  3. Peter K. says:

    I believe the Democratic Party has been moving away from the working class for 40 years. It’s not that they focus too much on “identity politics.” It doesn’t have to be either/or. Especially on trade deals which Trump used like a hammer against Hillary, along with immigration. Yes both issues are complicated, but Trump got the votes over people worried about jobs. While Obama was pushing the TPP.

    The recovery was too slow, partly because of Republicans and partly because of the Fed. Hillary supporters always say that the Democrats are better than Republicans and that’s all that matters. The Democratic Party has to deliver better living standards and conditions or people won’t support them or won’t bother voting.

    The Bernie Sanders campaign made me hopeful. Many young people supported him and ended up supporting Hillary since she won the primary. They’re the future. We need to organize and get more people involved. Hillary tried to reach out to Republican suburban wives and it just didn’t work. They still voted for Trump even though he’s deplorable. The votes have to come from elsewhere. The Democratic candidate should have won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc. It’s not enough to make excuses about Comey and Wikileaks. The Democratic candidate should have won by large margins.


    • Tcatman says:

      OMG…. the progressive status quo…. is trying to convince themselves of something…
      You write..
      “I believe the Democratic Party has been moving away from the working class for 40 years.”

      and what… moving towards what… the Capitol Class ? You don’t clarify… (but its a bad result in your view)

      Likewise you write. ” It’s not that they focus too much on “identity politics.” It doesn’t have to be either/or”

      What is the counter to Identity politics as a mechanism to gain power? you don’t clarify.. you conflate moving away form the working class and winning power with identity politics and set up a silly dichotomy.. compounding errors that lead progressives down a rat hole of irrelevance.

      Fact of the matter… your beliefs like this one “The Bernie Sanders campaign made me hopeful. Many young people supported him and ended up supporting Hillary since she won the primary. They’re the future. We need to organize and get more people involved” is wonderful Happy Talk leading to nothing but electoral disasters and loss of power at all levels.. simply deeper down the rat hole of irrelevance. aka a progressive status quo if you will…. Please note… Bernies home state of Vermont now has a Republican Governor!

      Progressives need to think clearly and critically…. concluding trade policy is anti working class and identity politics is a mechanism for gaining power… and not a descriptions of the world. are the kinds of errors that elected Obama (a very good thing) but still lead to a loss of power at all levels of government at historic levels (Clinton is just the headline in this loss of power) The progressive status quo HAS FAILED after the MOST progressive president in 50 years!

      I follow JB’s blog to help with my critical thinking needed for progressives to change the direction of the country. Please please… enough of the happy talk…. like… we just need to turn out more people and get them involved… Well.. of course… that is how you win an election… The devil is in the details of where you do this, your message, and your actual policy solutions. Say it….. The progressive status quo has FAILED..
      Why? Jared Bernstein writes

      “Of course, that implies we have a policy agenda that convincingly speaks to them, which we do not, and that really is a serious shortcoming of the progressive status quo.” AND

      “But the path forward may ultimately not be that complex.”

      Don’t get lost in the… we just need more people to turn out…. we need to solve the serious shortcomings of the progressive status quo! The evidence is overwhelming… it has FAILED given the USA Constitution. Either we adapt… or change the constitution…. which one looks possible?


      • Jonathan S Hanemann says:

        “Progressives need to think clearly and critically.”

        First, your main problem is that you don’t really define what a ‘progressive’ is. Is a ‘progressive’ a person who believes in the relevance of worker’s unions, for example? Or is a ‘progressive’ someone who denies the biological reality of gender and insists on being called ‘zhe’ on a college campus?

        Is a ‘progressive’ someone who believes America needs more gun control, or someone who marches down the street chanting “What do we want? Dead cops!”

        And BTW – progressives, as a rule, generally DON’T think clearly. They ‘think’ through the lens of a predetermined worldview. I’ve actually never met a progressive who thinks clearly. Ideological zeitgeist comes first, facts second, if at all.


    • BrianL says:

      touting the fictional wage gap and campus assault statistics, fighting over free range chickens and trans bathrooms, this election my party either focused on ID politics too much, or had nothing to say in the wake of INSANE claims that every republican is a racist sexist bigot (only my man Bill Maher was smart enough to point out the idiocy).

      ID politics might not be their official platform, but when Bernie said “white people don’t know what it’s like to be poor” he accidentally summed it up- millions of poor and lower middle class folks being told their white privilege is all they need is no message for someone interested in winning at politics.

      SEVEN states who voted twice for a black president just elected Trump. And not only that- dems are losing at local, state, federal levels as well- judges, governors, townships, congress, the slant is nation wide because there is a screaming speck of campus protest radicals shouting over all the other democrats.

      The Tea Party was a giant hole in the head for republicans. Dems need to recognize the “US is a vicious racist patriarchy” nutjobs and pull away from them. or they’ll never win again.


  4. Smith says:

    One might argue that “Stronger Together” was actually the slogan, however late it was formulated. Here is an article from May pointing out some of weakness inherent in this theme.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/05/23/what-hillary-clintons-latest-slogan-were-stronger-together-really-says-about-her-candidacy/

    I would add now, what was also obvious, that “Stronger Together” was really whether intended or not, a message that said the central problem of the U.S is inclusiveness, let’s debate the role of minorities, immigrants, globalization, and Trump attacking them. It is the opposite of Obama’s “Hope” and “Change You Can Believe In” both of which obviously meant something needed to change. Moreover, Obama’s campaign was built around a turnout Clinton could never hope to match, and earning enough white votes based on integrity, a Clinton weakness, and being a centrist, which Clinton’s slogan denied. “Stronger Together” ignored “It’s the economy, stupid” “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” might have turned 1%, but Clinton thought Trumps racism was more important and decisive.


    • BrianL says:

      “Stronger Together” doesn’t work when youtube/FB/Twitter/Tumblr and mainstream news were fist pounding and screaming that everyone on the right is a racist sexist xenophobic straight white male privileged bigot. And the dems never refuted it! so “stronger together” mainly if you’re a non-white minority or perhaps a white woman on your best behavior.

      Great strategy! it should surprise no one that yelling stronger together while giving half the country the middle finger didn’t work.


    • Jonathan S Hanemann says:

      “Stronger Together.” But if you don’t agree with us, you’re a racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe/xenophobe.

      That was the message. That’s why she lost.

      Stop playing with yourselves and accept the truth.


  5. Jill SH says:

    The one thing I’ve wanted to say about this is: Fellow Democrats, let’s not over-think this.

    The Republican party did that whole autopsy thing after Romney’s loss, decided that they should do more to appeal to people of color and LGBTQ, etc. etc. They did none of that — their ultimate candidate actually attack all those groups — and they stlll won.

    Democrats, specifically Hillary, did win the popular vote. I believe that Democratic policies are what people support, especially give issue-ballot votes across the US supporting minimum wage increases, marijuana legalization, etc. And when middle America discovers that they’ve been bamboozled by the fluffy orange thing, and that the guy with the silly grin has a big plan to privatize every social program in sight, not stopping with Obamacare, they will be ripe for Bernie’s/Elizabeth’s message. Which is really where we Dems have been all along.

    The day after the election, when we were cleaning out the Democratic office here in my town, an elderly man headed to the credit union next door, leaned toward our storefront and commented that Well, the American people had finally wised up and elected the right guy. I replied to him that he should hold on to his Social Security and Medicare while he still had them, ‘cuz Paul Ryan had plans to cut them. Nay, he said, Congress would never let that happen.


    • Smith says:

      It was Clinton’s election to lose and guess what? The next election depends strictly no performance. Good economy, no wars, no Soviet invasions, China blockades, oil state disintegration spiking prices, terror attacks, personal scandals, people dying from Obamacare repeal. These will determine future elections, not some notion of Democratic policy success. Meanwhile the free states of California and New York may show the potential of progressive governance and $15/hour minimum wage.


    • SonOfAHistoryProfessor says:

      “Its the Economy, Stupid.”
      Bubba and James Carville would have won that election.
      Unfortunately for many, HRC didn’t get enough input from them.

      Now it falls to all of us to act in a way that preserves the heritage we always assumed would be the birthright of our children.

      Do you agree? Please join me at http://www.arkofhistory.comhttps://www.facebook.com/sonofahistoryprofessor


  6. Denis Drew says:

    “Meanwhile, the core of our work continues to be supporting a functional, amply funded government sector that offsets market failures ”

    Uh, how come you guys (academic progressives) never think to do the most obvious — end LABOR market failures — it’s easy:
    None of this below has ever been vetted by the courts — but no time like now to start — the workability seems very compelling.

    First, (progressive) states can add to federal protections like the minimum wage or safety regulations. Don’t know why they could not add to labor organizing protections.

    LEGAL dissection: Suppose that the opposite of today there were no federal setup for establishing a collective bargaining unit — people in the free market established their units ad hoc when and where they were able. Suppose that unlike today that federal law made interfering with establishing a collective bargaining unit a crime. [This reverse combination might do more for labor than today’s actual situation — but I digress.]

    Examples of federal fed and state parallel statutes: bank robbery, RICO (33 states), etc. If there were no organizing setup to PREEMPT, there would be no question states could make union busting a crime. With today’s fed set up I would still think it perfectly obvious that states merely protecting that setup is not preempting.

    Now we add the CONSTITUTIONAL dissection: Given the established First Amendment right to organize (commercial association), the fed cannot setup an exclusive path to collective bargaining if said path is in a permanent blocked condition.

    The process of labor organizing is by definition adversarial situation where history in the US (recent decades at least) shows unchecked market power — MONOPSONY! — all on one side.

    6% union density in private industry — and it wouldn’t even be 6% if they had to start from scratch today — 6% union density (and dropping) is all proof anybody should ever need that the road to collective bargaining is permanently blocked.

    Put at its simplest: the fed cannot preempt something with nothing — not with a fundamental constitutional right at stake. This should make the open path to states criminalizing union busting doubly unduckable.

    Logically IF THE FED CANNOT PREEMPT SOMETHING WITH NOTHING — if it’s difficult to get people to think that any radically new way of doing things is possible — logically: states should be able to erect their own labor union certification setup UNTIL THE FED REFORMS.

    What I’d like to see at the state and eventually federal level is mandated certification elections on a finding of union busting. Simpler, more streamlined than using up law enforcement resources, no businesspersons go to jail (big business more pin-downable than small, just like with discrimination statutes).

    In Wisconsin the Republicans force recertification of public employee unions every year — with 51% of membership required, not just voters. So what’s so alien about forcing a certification election with reasonable cause?

    Interestingly, California (and maybe others, I don’t know) have a separate union certification setup for farm workers only. This is done on the strength of FDR telling Congress that it did not apply to farm workers, probably just to get it through.

    6% union density is like 20/10 blood pressure — it starves every other healthy economic and political process.

    WA, OR, CA, NV, MN, IL, NY, MA, VA, MD, ET AL, ETC — listening?


  7. EMichael says:

    So let me figure this out. The Dems should run less of an identity politics campaign because they lost an election to the most identity based politics campaign in the history of the US?

    People have to stop analyzing this election while ignoring the simple fact that Trump won because of his racism. And anyone who thinks his voters really thought a gene pool winner who has never done anything for the working class his entire life (and many, many things against them), or for that matter even met any of the working class (other than to place his order) was going to suddenly change his entire life’s philosophy is calling them so utterly stupid that it comes close to my insult calling them racists.

    They got what they wanted. Finally a POTUS who will tell them that their life sucks cause black, brown, muslim and gay people have ruined it for them. They won’t even care that they get none of their problems solved, nor will they even care that much that their problems will increase. Just as long as they can shout “Build That Wall” when they have too much to drink.

    The Dems should have run against Rep racism and voter suppression in every swing state. “Stop Jim Crow” should have been their motto. They should have run against Mike Pence’s homophobia in every state, and call it that in every possible negative terms.

    Dems lost cause they did not play strong enough identity politics.


    • Amy Y. says:

      Dems lost because they demonized people who in the past supported efforts toward equality. Look, let’s say you’re right, and somehow it turns out that half the country, including 10% of the people who voted for Obama, and truly horrid racists. So what are you going to do about it? Just keep name-calling and bullying?


    • BrianL says:

      “Trump won because of his racism” is the kind of incredible ignorance that will make sure MY party never wins again. i’ve voted liberal my whole life, i’m pro-choice, pro immigration, anti-guns and anti-nation building.

      But SEVEN US STATES that voted twice for a black president just voted for Donald Trump. If you spend all your time in the echo chamber you’re not going to be able to see what really happened. I read Guardian, BBC, NYT, WaPO, CSM, and Heat st. (Breitbart too conspiracy for my tastes). If you’re not reading and listening to all sides you’ll never find the truth.

      The truth is identity politics has turned into a preachy moral panic based on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Academia even has a term for it now- social weightlessness. The theories of insidious systematic racism and sexism are NOT what the common people are experiencing in real life. The US is only a brutal patriarchy on social media college campus protests, the reality is we have more minorities and women graduating college than ever before, and women make more money than men under age 40. Campus assaults are 6 in 1000 not 1 in 5 (FBI/DOJ) and women make less total wages because they work fewer hours and take lower paying jobs.

      If my own friggin party keeps selling FICTION and preaching that straight white men are responsible for all suffering in the world, we haven’t even BEGUN the losing streak yet.


  8. Tcatman says:

    Jared you wrote
    ” Of course, that implies we have a policy agenda that convincingly speaks to them, which we do not, and that really is a serious shortcoming of the progressive status quo.”
    You have spoken to this shortcoming many times. I seem to remember your prescriptions like… Invest in education as a general policy prescriptive was a major one… (mind you… it sounds like a republican strategy… NOW… more then ever… invest in education…. aka… now more then ever… TAX CUTS for job creators”

    Obviously, two democratic candidates promising free college education was not a winning promise! In addition, I suspect when 40 to 55 year old citizens are told that their skills are priced too high… and thanks for your service… please take advantage of this educational RETRAINING funding a message that education, now more then ever….is another shortcoming of the progressive status quo prescription..

    OR, the new global economy and the reality of multiple job titles over the years is BEST SERVED by embracing Obamacare…. is also a political looser…. Since Obamcare is easily spun as CAUSING your upset / job insequrity with the failed expectations of the American birthright of increasing standards of living…. and not Obamacare was a necessary means policy of reform o mitigate the upset.

    Your point….” a policy agenda that convincingly speaks to them” is not only essential but a huge unknown… and THAT is the core take home message for me of this Trump election….. Just as it was a core issue for me after Obama’s election. Same core issue that has not been addressed with two very different electoral outcomes. The anecdotes of former Obama voters staying home and not voting in Milwalkee are evidence of the missing policy agenda that speaks to all voters and non voters alike.


  9. Nick Batzdorf says:

    The way forward, the low-hanging fruit, is to mobilize normal people in upcoming elections.

    Before this one I had plenty of empathy, and shouted loudly for progressive economic and social policies. At this point that tank is not just empty, it’s imploding from the vacuum.


  10. urban legend says:

    I’m not sure how much to put on her personally for the campaign decisions — especially what commercials were made and being run — but consider that everyone said she’s fantastic in small groups. Imagine what the results might have been if they had run a series of five to ten one-minute commercials showing her explaining key (and simple and popular) parts of the Democratic platform that she had agreed on with Bernie: on the need to raise incomes and national spending power as a necessity for economic growth to take off again (with a minimum wage that hasn’t been raised in almost a decade due to Republican intransigence being a key part of that); on the need for a full employment policy, including a large infrastructure plan to bring the country up to date and create millions of jobs; on the need to put Democrats in Congress because of the obstructionism of Republicans who are putting political power above the good of the country; on the need to fix Obamacare with making a public option available — with a day one signing of a Medicare buy-in right for people 50-65 without employer-sponsored insurance, “something everyone should be able to agree on”); even on how bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows can help raise incomes.

    Supposedly te lectorate wants “change.” Democrats have not realized and promoted the fact that putting Democrats into control again and adopting key parts of the Democratic platform would be a huge “change.” Republicans have been in a position to block good legislation tat would actually help the 99% for all but four of the last 35 years; for the 46 years from 1933 through 1979, the years when all the good programs we know and desire to retain were passed, Democrats controlled both Congress and the Presidency for the majority of those years.

    Democratic Party messaging sucks, period. It has been a disaster for most recent elections (2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012 [four House seats gained in a Presidential year after the 2010 debacle!], 2014 and now 2016. Republicans control everything now. It’s time to put real professionals who understand what the peope are telling them in charge.


  11. Blackeyebart says:

    Identity politics comes out of the way the political science is taught with the multiplier of public relations methodology..
    The electorate is carved up into a pie chart based on how people historically voted, and the demographic and attitudinal characteristics of each segment. Once that is done the PR expert takes over.
    PR is based on the theory that one should tell voters what they want to hear. THey set out to answer the question every voter is believed to be asking “What’s in it for me?”
    Nobody seems to notice that this process cuts out the need for politics itself. Politics being a debate on the proper path to a stated objective for a community. By concentrating on the voter the community is lost from sight. We cannot see the forest for the trees..


    • Tcatman says:

      Great points about the modern day descriptions of voters and how campaigns go about marketing to them.
      The failure of progressive solutions or the messaging of proposed solutions to persuade voters at the level of community is better understood at the state level.
      Russ Feingold, perhaps the most liberal progressive you could imagine and running for the Paul Wellstone seat LOST by 3 points. Meanwhile, the feckless conservative democrat, Evan Bayh lost by 10 points.

      These are not close results and span the ideological spectrum.. What is called for is a clear eyed evaluation of what happened and as JB notes .” a policy agenda that convincingly speaks to them”


  12. elkern says:

    The Democratic Party is a coalition, not a party based on clearly stated shared values. Identity politics is baked in and probably can’t be baked out (huh?). But the party should, should, MUST find a way to focus on class-based “identity” more – or face oblivion.

    The hard part of this is that it implies focusing less on racial/ethnic and gender identity.

    The GOP is a coalition, too, and it’s really a much more volatile coalition (Billionaires, evangelicals, libertarians, (some) Catholics, militias, & Neo-Cons – do they have anything in common???). But there is a core of wealthy backers which has somehow managed to convince a huge number of non-urban voters to focus on specific policy details (abortion, gun rights, gender roles, “race”), and used those points of (feigned!) commonality to get them to keep voting for the primary interest of the Billionaires: ending progressive taxation.

    The fun thing about the Trump campaign was that he showed that GOP voters really don’t care about that core mission; unfortunately, they voted in a Congress which does. So now we have to hope that the Tea-Party bozos in the House DON’T forget how “important” the deficit is (I know, I know, but they don’t) and somehow block the Party’s plans.

    Gqnxxxxznbbpht!

    Bottom line (agreeing w JB): Focus on progressive economic policy & how to explain it to people.


    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Yep. But we have to do more than explain. We have to deliver the goods. People need to a reason to count themselves among the coalition, one that’s more than “we’re better than the bad guy.”


    • Pinkybum says:

      “(Billionaires, evangelicals, libertarians, (some) Catholics, militias, & Neo-Cons – do they have anything in common???)”

      Yes they do. There are two core tenets of the right wing:

      1. They think a strict order is imperative.
      2. They are or they think they need an authority figure to tell them what to do.


    • BrianL says:

      There’s nothing wrong with pointing out quantifiable discrimination and injustice against certain groups. The problem is the new age of hypocrisy where we are asked to judge “Not all Muslims” for the actions of a few (which i totally agree with) yet we are asked to judge ALL white people for colonialism, slavery, and their cozy white privilege that puts them in power but soulless and out of touch.

      Lumping every culture on earth with fair skin into the same group, then denigrating that group, is just as racist as anything i’ve seen in my lifetime. We cannot be surprised when as a political strategy it leads to catastrophic failure.


  13. Pinkybum says:

    The story is easy to tell but apparently no national Democratic politician is willing to tell it.

    1. 2008 the Democrats win big but only have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for 6 months and face obstruction not just from Republicans but from Democrats who might as well be Republicans (Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman.) Any legislation is a water-downed version of what a really good policy would be.
    2. 2008-2010 the Republicans make a determined effort to win local legislatures in marginal states
    3. 2010 the newly won Republican state legislatures gerrymander the house districts in a hugely anti-democratic initiative building in structural majorities for the next 10 years.
    4. All subsequent Democratic proposals are obstructed by congressional Republican majorities.
    5. 2016 Republicans can claim the Democrats have done nothing for the working American the past 6 years.


    • BrianL says:

      Dems have been losing at local, state, federal, judicial, and now national levels. Something is clearly wrong with my party and we have to get it right. Personally I am pro gun control, pro choice, and anti- drug war, but identity politics and this “white fragility” BS going around make me ill. Reverse racism is not a platform- we have witnessed an entire political era based on jealousy and lack of accountability (marginalized groups are not accountable for their actions).

      The insanity has to stop. In the 90s it was the Right coming after my video games, and dungeons & dragons etc, now it’s the Left. I never thought i would see the day.


  14. Richard Parsons says:

    Mr. Bernstein, I like your sanity. Can I share my policy ideas with you to revitalize the Democratic Party via email? The place to begin is to create a “national reform agenda” — from cleaning up the system to economic fairness. Too bad there won’t be a President Biden.


  15. mrrunangun says:

    The Democratic/Progressive agenda as presented in the recent campaign season emphasized its support for the discrete agendas of its major donor and identity groups. Those agendas were often interpretable as inimical to the midwestern white working class who comprise the swing vote in the swing states in the current setup. This was especially true of the bankers’ free trade agenda and the environmentalists’ opposition to job provision in mining, drilling, lumbering, etc. The promises of new and better American jobs that were to come after opening new markets with NAFTA and PNTR for China turned out to have been somewhere between lies and wishful thinking, so promises of new opportunities for displaced miners, roughnecks, and lumbermen are not credible.

    Unionization will not help wages as long as financial globalization and open borders provide intense wage competition for American workers at the low and medium skill levels. Unionized tradesmen in the midwest are being undercut by immigrants who don’t qualify for a union card but learned similar skills in Krakow, Guadalajara, etc. Technological change can also defeat collective bargaining. Retail clerks are being displaced by robots at Amazon. The only unions that really have power now are the public employee unions and even there improvements in technology are displacing low skilled clerical and pick-and-shovel men.


  16. Wiley Coug says:

    Limousine liberal is just another term for the ABC theory of compassion: jet set group A sees something which can be viewed as suffering or injustice affecting group C and says “that’s wrong and we’ll compassionately insist that group B pays for it”!


  17. Jonathan S Hanemann says:

    Right around the time people started chanting “What do we want, dead cops!” in the streets is when the liberal/left lost. That’s when ‘middle America’ said, “That’s it. No more.”

    Here’s what you have to do: drop the radical identity politics, and take mainstream liberalism back from the LOONY LEFT.

    ‘Complicated’ is beside the point. Being enough of an adult to hear what you don’t want to hear is everything.

    You’re welcome.


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