“All politics is identity politics.”
I keep mulling over this key learning from Ezra Klein’s new book, “Why We’re Polarized.”
The classic formation of “identity politics” is used as a slam against liberals. But Klein’s book turns that on its head, and suggests that ALL of us have identities…MULTIPLE identities.
Black, White, Latino, Asian.
City, Country, Suburban.
Working Class, Upper Class.
Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Parent, Child.
Young, Old, Middle aged.
And COUNTLESS MORE I have not even mentioned.
To review, Klein’s book suggests that in the past 40 years, two MEGA identities have been formed in America:
Klein calls these our new MEGA identities.
He says that 40 years ago, the political parties were *cross sorted,* across identities.
There were Liberal Republicans. There were Conservative Democrats.
(BTW: He doesn’t think we can, or should, go back to “old days.” Those cross-sorted parties excluded almost all people of color, women, LGBTQ+. In fact, the whole thesis here is that historical Whiteness is ALSO an identity…often a toxic one, historically…)
But, over the past forty years the cross sorting of our identities has greatly diminished. It’s now very rare to find a “Liberal Republican” anywhere.
Instead, our identities now get “stacked” within TEAM RED and TEAM BLUE.
There are exceptions to every rule. And, within each human being, we still cross-sort within our individual personhood.
But the TEAMS are very *stacked,* and no longer cross-sorted.
That explains why we feel so polarized.
The Democratic Party has always been a coalitional one. And when they have won, they have won because some candidate manages to bring along the greatest part of that coalition. The coalition is ALWAYS weak and tenuous.
Last night, Joe Biden showed the nation how that’s done.
Whatever you think of him, whatever you think of this campaign, you have to admit, it was an incredible night for Joe.
He won dozens of states he didn’t even spend a DIME in. (Talk about getting $$ out of politics…) It was built on *relationships* and trust that he has built over 40 years.
One of these days, I hope that somebody finally starts listening to us here in Dallas County. Because coalitional winning is what we’ve been doing here.
I know, I’m horribly biased. But we also flipped a solidly RED stronghold in Texas to a solidly BLUE stronghold fifteen years ago….so….
Seriously, though, we’ve been trying to get a message out for over a decade now. Dems ONLY win when they run a coalitional campaign that brings along *everybody* in the coalition.
Or, if it does not bring them along, at least it does not explicitly exclude them.
African-American voters are a huge part of that block. I don’t dare speak for them, but my understanding of them, learned over 15 years of watching them vote, is that they are extraordinarily PRAGMATIC in their votes….
MUCH more pragmatic than White liberals.
Another important learning is: They don’t necessarily trust White candidates…even White liberals.
To all of my White friends, I hope you will read this very thoughtful piece by Elie Mystal, titled: “Black Voters Didn’t Vote for Biden in South Carolina Because They “Lack Information.””
It’s a mouthful. And it’s orignally written about that one contest, but I think it explains a bunch of last night’s result too. I hope you find it as helpful as I have. I’ve re-read it about five times now.
I think Bernie misunderstood this how pragmatic Black voters are. And, I KNOW he misunderstood how much he needs the ENTIRE Democratic coalition in order to win.
Bernie did *not* bring everybody along, despite his rhetoric claiming to do so.
Specifically, he fell into a lazy and unfortunate narrative of blaming the “Establishment Democrats.” That was a stupid, stupid move….
Whatever you think about “Establishment Democrats” (And I’ll be happy to argue my case that, except for the actual DNC members, they don’t actually exist…) it’s foolish to pit ONE part of a coalition that you need to win against ANOTHER part of a coalition that you also need in order to win.
(Before anybody shrieks: Yes, Joe Biden will have this same issue, on the other side of the Moderate/Progressive coin…and that will be an important conversation for another day…)
There is very tenuous trust…and often a MIS-trust…between the various parts of the “Democratic Coalition.”
There always has been. I’m beginning to think there always will be. African-Americans and Latinos are sometimes pitted against each other. That is NEVER good.
As I said before, both African Americans and Latinos often distrust White leaders. They have reason.
From the Elie Mystal piece:
“Some people on Twitter, including people who weirdly think of themselves as part of Bernie Sanders’s coalition, chalked up Biden’s win to “low information voters” in South Carolina. The argument would be offensive if it weren’t also so dumb. Older black voters in South Carolina have a lifetime of education and experience dealing with the most persistent threat to their safety and rights in this country: white people.
My read of the South Carolina vote is that black people know exactly what they’re doing, and why. Joe Biden is the indictment older black folks have issued against white America. His support is buttressed by chunks of the black community who have determined that most white people are selfish and cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They believe if you make white people choose between their money and their morality—between candidates like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren (who somehow finished fifth in South Carolina, behind Pete Buttigieg) and candidates like Biden and Michael Bloomberg—they will choose their money every time and twice on Election Day.”
“So when you ask older black people what the white electorate, Democratic or Republican, are capable of, they remember. They remember that this country has spent the better part of 40 years lauding the racially destructive policies of Ronald Reagan. They remember that actual progressive choices, like Jackson and Edwards, were rejected by white Democrats. They remember that white people failed to turn on George W. Bush, despite his legacy of incompetence and torture, and instead reelected him. They remember that the majority of white people did not vote for the first black president, spent eight years attacking his every move, and then replaced him with the most small-minded bigot they could find, rejecting an immensely qualified white woman in the process.”
Bernie completely failed at understanding this facet of Black identity in America. I’m hearing, for example, that he didn’t even TRY to get Clyburn’s endorsement in South Carolina.
Bernie committed many other mistakes that no doubt will be analyzed in coming days. But to my mind, his campaign against the “Democratic Establishment” was the most foolish of all.
Are traditional Black voters across the South the “Democratic Establishment?” (Clyburn made this point…)
Is anybody wiling to say that they are uninformed or voting against their own interest? I hope not. If so, read the piece below again, several times. Again, I hope all White people, and especially White liberals, will read this piece carefully.
African-American voters did *not* vote against their interest or their indentity. Neither did Warren voters. (And anybody who blames her in coming days really needs to shut up…)
Warren voters, African American voters –and apparently also a good number of White voters– voted for their interest, as they understood them. It will be a serious mistake for any Bernie supporter to claim that either they, or Warren supporters, voted against their interests last night by not supporting him.
Again, a winning Democratic message will always try their best to bring as much of the coalition together as possible. I tend to think last night proved what I’m still fairly certain is true: That coalition breaks down roughly 55-45% along a Moderate-Progressive divide. That has been my guess for some months now…I think last night showed that. (It might even still be 60-40…lets see where we are in a few weeks…)
For a candidate who clams he wanted to bring everybody along, Bernie’s constant railing against “Establishment” Democrats was absolutely foolhardy.
It didn’t even apparently work in California…so how they hell was that supposed to work in Texas?
Dems *only* win when they can put aside their differences and stand together as a coalitional political movement.
Let me end with this…
I LOVE Bernie’s idea of expanding the party base, and bringing in new voters. That message is DEEPLY needed. The coalition has to continue to expand…and by definition the coalition will continue to get more liberal as time goes on.
Bernie did an *amazing* job reaching young Latinos in Texas. I had hoped this might be the big story of the night. And it IS a big story. But it’s only part of the whole story, as much as I personally am eager to see that part of the coalition expand.
At some point, if Bernie ever wants to lead the Democratic Party, he’s got a lead a part of *everybody* who calls themselves “Democrats.”
And as we’ve been saying, he’s not only shown no sign of doing that, and has actively ridiculed it in his own language.
Back to Biden….
I never expected the frontrunner to be an old White man this time. As I’ve written many times, none of my top original FOUR candidates are going to win this election.
The original Democratic coalition that excited ME was Jesse Jackson in 1984-88. His campaign helped change my life and politics. His “rainbow coalition” is still the fundamental metaphor on what Democratic politics looks like…and has room for EVERBODY.
This time, I was hoping for a coalition that could be led by somebody from a different identity…somebody younger…somebody of another race…a woman….
That’s not going to happen at this point. The stacked Democratic identities are lining up behind Joe Biden. It’s not a plot. It’s not a conspiracy. (Joe did this, again, with little money…)
It’s people lining up all their various identities and making what seems to them to be a very pragmatic choice. It’s all happened *stunninglly* fast, within past few days.
I understand completely why it’s happened.
Last night’s turnout was almost on par with 2008’s history primary in Texas. That happened elsewhere in the country too.
That bodes VERY well for the fall.
But! (And here’s the but that we learned in Dallas fifteen years ago…. the message I’ve been harping on for YEARS….)
Only if all the various parts of the coalition turn out at record numbers.
Given the likely 55-45% Moderate-Progressive split within the party still, I understand why what is happening is happening.
But it will remain to be seen if ALL the coalition will show up in the Fall.
Pop more popcorn.