The term “identity politics” has been tossed around the past couple years as a pejorative; mostly to equate identity politics with one issue voting. As often happens, leftists and progressives disagree on this point, as I disagree with Progressive Army contributor Mr. Joe Brunoli’s piece Democrats Must Abandon Identity Politics and Run on Actual Policies. The article suggests that identity politics must be abandoned completely and he harkens back to the FDR-Style of progressivism. Those policies hit certain communities especially hard and African Americans took on the brunt of the problem.
“The rationale was the government’s need to protect its investment, and those of white homeowners, against the threat African American neighbors would pose to property values.” – Charles Lane for the Washington Post
Mr. Brunoli also suggests that Alexandria Osacio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders are trying to develop issue-based only campaigns. I personally support Sen. Sanders on most topics, but this was where I feel he dropped the ball during the 2016 campaign and I wasn’t the only one to notice this blind spot. Not directly addressing the issues facing individual communities was a key component missing from his arsenal. As for Congressional hopeful Alexandria Osacio-Cortez, even a perfunctory glance at her platform page is a litany of identity-based political issues that she says she plans on addressing if elected.
It is true that Democrats have a long history of running on identity politics but the problem wasn’t and isn’t this approach. The problem is politicians not following through after securing office. What the Democrats did in the 2016 presidential campaign is what they have been doing for decades; they made a boogeyman of the Republican party and their policies without having a concrete plan or action to replace those problematic stances. Much like the Republicans who rushed to attempt to reverse the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) then couldn’t produce a viable replacement.
A prime example of this from the Democrats was the push for Senator Kamala Harris as a presidential hopeful for 2020. Senator Harris was spouting the same tired talking points from the Democratic Party but they hoped that coming from the mouth of a 1) woman 2) of color would make them easier to swallow.
The republic is not only tired of waiting on Democrats to follow through on their campaign promises but is now in dire straits due to this lack of any follow-through on identity policies.
Democrats have a habit of flip-flopping on issues that affect marginalized communities based on whether or not they were politically expedient at the time rather than any true commitment to the ideologies the purport to support. This has caused a lack of trust among longtime democratic supporters and Democrats have been exposed for who they truly are; centrists or rather Republican-lite.
Mr. Brunoli’s suggestion of:
“…getting off the addictive gravy train of corporate cash and it means stopping the vicious cycle of fundraising and spending on lobbyists, consultants, and mass media.”
Is exactly what progressive candidates have done but progressives have seen a dramatic increase in support, not because they abandoned identity politics but because they spoke directly to them. In the aftermath of the 2016 Election, the progressive candidates who are making strides, showing great promise, and winning are largely very connected to the communities they serve. Some are even coming directly from those communities and they are familiar with the needs and the specific needs of those communities. Marginalized and disenfranchised communities may have a common end goal, but the hurdles they face in reaching those goals vary greatly. The needs of the LGBTQI community are not the same needs of farmers. The needs of former coal miners in rural Appalachia are not the same needs as sex workers.
There is no better way to get people to the polls than to show them that they will be voting in their best interest, rather than being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils where their needs are ignored once they have cast their ballots.
We certainly must support candidates that have solid issue-based campaigns but those issues will always need to be viewed through the lens of identity politics in order to be effective.