Friday, February 13, 2015

The Superficiality of Identity Politics

While a lot of political pundits are wringing their hands over the future of white working/middle class voters, at least Chris Cillizza recognizes that there is another question on the table for the 2016 presidential election:
The central question facing Clinton, the de facto Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, and the legion of former Obama consultants advising her this time around is whether they can turn the Obama coalition into a Democratic coalition.
But in attempting to answer that question, Cillizza's analysis is lacking. That's because he relies only on superficial assumptions tied to what we often call "identity politics." In other words, African Americans overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama because he's black, women will vote for Hillary Clinton because she's female and the Hispanic vote will be determined by the politics of immigration reform. It all reminds me of how angry a lot of black women got at the race vs gender assumptions in the 2008 Democratic primary.

The end game of this kind of superficiality is demonstrated by Republican tokenism in presenting us with candidates like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Marco Rubio on the assumption that we're all that simple-minded.

We've still got a lot of work to do on race and gender in this country. The end game we should be shooting for is what David Simon described.
America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
Show me a candidate who can do that and I guarantee you they'll turn out the Obama coalition!


  1. My question, at this point is why do we need the pundit class to be right about anything anymore? They so seldom are. They write stuff their editors want to read, that is in the comfort zone for their overall narrative. So of course they're shallow.

    Last cycle proved conclusively for me that none of us really know why people don't vote. It's difficult to study because if you round up a focus group of sporadic voters, you can't come out and ask them point blank why they didn't vote in the previous election. They get all huffy and defensive and suspicious because they don't understand how researchers or pollsters even know they didn't vote. They feel violated and shut down. So until someone develops a way to extract good information about why people don't vote, then we're getting nowhere. The Republicans don't have this problem. They vote. They're motivated by ideology and personalities.

    One thing we do know is that people don't vote based on deep knowledge of the issues and policies. They vote based on fear, anger and pure emotion. So yeah, identity politics is shallow by its very nature. Shallow pundits view shallow data and spew it to their readership like it's somehow gospel. That's a recipe for being wrong most of the time.

  2. Basically, pundits are superficial people doing superficial analysis superficially.

  3. Tien - I do think that many (maybe not most but many) so-called 'identity' voters actually know something about the issues that matter to them. That's why so many who put their money on Wendy Davis over abortion rights were just wrong. The vast majority of women do care about that, but care about jobs, economic stability, food on the table, wages even more. I discovered through many long and wonderful conversations that the Black voters I know, not at all well educated upper middle class people, actually understood President and Candidate Obama's POLICY positions. They had Herman Cain, Alan West et al. so voting by RACE was not the focus. Issues were the focus.

    This is the weakness of any party that thinks in narrow ways. It will be the problem for the GOP where ripples of dissatisfaction are starting to emerge from the grassroots. It might carry you for a few election cycles, but if you fail to provide real answers to the burning questions people have about their lives, you cannot survive for long. Ideology doesn't feed families. Racial and ethnic identity doesn't give you health care. And most people are finding that's true, and they will be looking for candidates that believe the same.


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