As the Democratic Party establishment reels in the face of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) rolling momentum, one of its key control mechanisms is notably wavering. A heavy dose of identity politics in the primary race was supposed to generate a comfortable nominee for the Dem ruling elite, one who could tout his/her race, gender, or sexual orientation to attract “woke” grassroots voters while being perfectly amenable to the Democratic National Committee’s higher goal of allowing business as usual to continue behind the scenes.
This was the result of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, though amazingly a great number of progressive Democrats still fail to grasp this inescapable conclusion. Obama brought race to the forefront via the self-professed “transformative nature” of his personal image while behind the curtain the donor class still called the shots. Obama’s foreign and global trade policy was for the most part perfectly in line with that of the Uniparty consensus that dominated American politics from 1989 to 2015. Not one month had elapsed in his first term before Obama announced a major troop surge in Afghanistan. He championed the globalist Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and staunchly defended international trade pacts throughout his two terms in office. “We can’t disengage,” Obama said in 2016, denouncing “protectionism” while addressing global trade issues in a press conference with the prime minister of Canada and president of Mexico. “We’ve got to engage more…. [W]e’re going to keep on pushing hard to shape an international order that works for our people.”
If change-hungry progressives ask themselves, “What did Obama do in eight years to harm or even mildly disrupt the insider dealings of the Swamp in Washington, D.C.?” the honest answer can only be nothing.
Divergent Progressive Perspectives
Two interesting viewpoints recently vented in leftist publications highlight the coming major discussion Democrats must have on identity politics in a post-Obama party if Sanders does indeed capture the nomination. Zack Beauchamp, writing in Vox, openly declares identity politics to be the tool that can save “modern liberalism” from the growing populist anger of the citizenry. That anger is, of course, now personified on the left by Sanders.
“American liberalism is in desperate need of renewal. Its ideas too often feel stale, its nostrums unsuited to beating back the authoritarian populist tide,” Beauchamp wrote in the lead paragraph of his Feb. 20 piece. “Yet there is an opportunity for revival — if liberals are willing to more forthrightly embrace the politics of identity.”
The rest of the article is rather tedious, but that lead is extremely telling. Beauchamp goes on to unabashedly assert that identity politics can be used to defend a “liberal order” that has “served as something like the operating system for democratic politics” in America since the end of World War II.
“Elite failures and global catastrophes — particularly the one-two punch of the financial and refugee crises — have caused Western publics to lose faith in the liberal order’s guardians…. The West’s fundamental commitment to liberalism is coming into question,” he frets. Identity politics can be utilized to restore trust in this fraying system, Beauchamp states.
The crucial takeaway here is Beauchamp is saying, though he obviously doesn’t mean to, that playing off the individual grievances of various Americans of differing race, gender, or other markers is an important way to maintain the decades-old existing ruling order in this nation. My, what a revealing admission.
In direct contrast to this, populist progressive Anis Shivani wrote an intriguing article for the left-wing Common Dreams website on Feb. 15. In it, he argues that identity politics has been used to stifle genuine rebellion against the political establishment, which he describes as the forces of “neoliberalism.”
“Neoliberalism is what happened to both the Democrats and the Republicans when they agreed to put into practice, starting from the 1970s onwards, certain radical ideas about human social organization that had been percolating since the end of World War II,” is how Shivani puts it. The cultivation of what he sees as a greed-oriented individualism at the expense of the general welfare is Shivani’s chief criticism of this neoliberal social order.
However you may feel about that statement, consider this: A leftist critique of modern American politics that looks past and in fact harshly dismisses identity politics is a huge and refreshing change and gives hope for a more honest future national dialogue. Shivani even cites Obama as he makes the vital point that irate progressive voters are rejecting the personal identity posturing by politicians that has again been foisted on them by the Democratic Party in this primary race:
“Not long ago, identity politics would have canceled the clarity that has resulted from the focus on neoliberal inequality. Voters don’t seem interested in voting for [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren [D-MA] or [Sen. Kamala] Harris [D-CA] as a woman per se, if they see their policies as hurting all people, including women. The same dynamic applies to [former Mayor Pete] Buttigieg, whose gay identity is not the overruling factor as was blackness in the case of Barack Obama; rather, whether Buttigieg’s neoliberal accommodation actually hurts all people, including people in the LGBTQ community, seems to be the overriding consideration — as it should be.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Harris, and Buttigieg all would have been perfectly suitable nominees in the eyes of the Dem establishment. Warren would have been acceptable though less ideal. All of these candidates touted identity politics by their very personages, mimicking the shallow example of Obama in the process. They all have manifestly failed to register with Democrat voters. This represents a genuine calamity for a Dem establishment that has no ideas of substance to offer in its stead.
End of a Blue Con?
Leftist populism led by an avowed socialist like Sanders is certainly not a good thing for America. But there are aspects of the Bernie phenomenon that may prove salutary. A Democratic Party being forced to abandon the superficial and fundamentally dishonest identity politics shell game by a progressive grassroots that demands more than the empty posturing embodied in that lame and stale form of electioneering is an undeniably positive development.
Sanders himself may be an imperfect vessel for this evolution, given his frequent knee-bends to identity grievance throughout the Dem primary process to date. But his rise is pushing the party in this direction. Just look at those he is defeating. You don’t have to like Sanders or his supporters. But a worn-out and thoroughly corrupt Democrat political establishment losing one of its most tried-and-true weapons of manipulation is reason for celebration.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.