In an op-ed in the NYT today, Noam Scheiber makes that often unspoken argument overtly. He's writing about Mayor Bill DeBlasio's drop in the polls. But I don't want to get distracted with analyzing DeBlasio's performance. Instead, let's pay attention to the overall message.
From the get-go, Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fused two distinct strands of progressivism. The first was economic populism, not least his criticism that Michael R. Bloomberg had placed the interests of Wall Street and the wealthy above those of average New Yorkers.What Scheiber is basically saying is that if you want to unite whites and minority voters, you have to focus on the issues that are a priority to whites. That's pretty much white supremacy in a nutshell. His big "tell" comes in what he leaves out of that last sentence. The reason racial groups view the issues he places at the bottom differently is because they affect racial groups differently. White people never had to be concerned about "stop-and-frisk" because it almost never happened to a white person. White mothers/fathers, wives, siblings don't spend much time worrying that their son, husband, brother will be harassed/beaten/killed because some police officer jumped to the conclusion that he was a "dangerous black/brown man." But that is exactly how police actions become a priority for voters of color. The fear of what can happen becomes a life-and-death issue for them - as we've seen lately.
The second was what some have called “identity group” liberalism, which appealed to black and Latino voters as blacks and Latinos, not on the basis of economic interests they shared with whites. The centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s identity-group agenda was his promise to win better treatment for minorities at the hands of the police.
The problem for Mr. de Blasio is that only the first approach has widespread appeal...
If you were to rank issues by their potential to unite whites and minority voters, the most promising would be populist economic issues like raising taxes on the rich. Somewhere in the middle would be an issue like health care, which has large economic benefits for both whites and nonwhites, even if opponents can portray it as a sop to the latter. At the very bottom would be issues with little economic content, but which different racial groups view in radically different ways.
White people were just as oblivious to the priorities of African Americans during the Jim Crow era. One of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King was so revolutionary and successful is that he believed white people would reject the treatment of African Americans if they could see it...really see it. Here's how Ta-Nehisi Coates talked about that.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.For Scheiber, understanding and validating those priorities in today's America is a losing strategy for Democrats.
The real lesson is that Mr. de Blasio’s brand of liberalism isn’t a basis for Democratic dominance, as his boosters once enthused. Politically, economic populism trumps identity-group appeals.I'll simply remind you that Scheiber himself described DeBlasio's brand of liberalism as a fusion of economic populism with things like a promise to end "stop-and-frisk." So it is that fusion politics championed by people like Rev. William Barber and the Moral Mondays Movement that Scheiber is rejecting - Democrats shouldn't embrace both. To rephrase what he said: "Politically, white people's priorities trump people of color's priorities." If it makes you uncomfortable to hear it said that way, you are tuned in to the dog whistle by which white supremacy is often communicated. Those messages are not the exclusive domain of people on the right.
UPDATE: On twitter Scheiber is responding to a critique of his op-ed (which I didn't make - but his response is still instructive) by saying that it was meant to be "descriptive, not normative." In a sense, he's right about that. What he did was describe how politics on the left looks these days from a white privileged perspective. I simply reject that perspective.