What is More Important than Who

Sen. Sanders on the stump for Clinton
Sen. Sanders on the stump for Clinton
Yesterday Talking Points Memo published a piece that quoted Senator Bernie Sanders decrying Identity politics.

If you’re familiar with the term, but not really sure what it means, don’t feel bad. I looked it up too just to be sure. Here’s how the googles defines it:

identity politics: a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.

This definition is problematic for the argument that Democrats focusing on “identity politics” is what sunk their political fortunes…mostly because no Democrat, including Clinton, ran on identity politics. Trump did. The difference, he ran on white identity politics, while Clinton sought out a big tent that encompassed all kinds of groups, none exclusive of each other.

Jared Bernstein took up the question on his blog, but misses the larger point that The New Republic picks up on…that identity alone isn’t enough to win a national election…unless that identity caters to the white majority as Trump did.

Kyle Clauss gives Sander’s speech more context, by posting his actual statement. The gist of it is that policy matters. The policies and positions you support matter as much, if not more than any “group” you belong to in Democratic Politics. Sanders argues, and I think correctly, that just being a woman, African-American, or Latino(a) shouldn’t be enough to win an election. Those qualities don’t specifically define who the candidate would be once in office. The policies those candidates push are what should elevate them.

Simply put, “what” you support should be more important than “who” you are (gender, race, orientation, or Party).

There are a lot of examples in Shelby County of elected officials who win on identity, but get into office and support policies that specifically undermine that identity as well as the economic/social interests of their constituents (I’m looking at you John DeBerry).

For Democrats to be successful in the long-run, we have keep pushing policies that have wide ranging appeal…you know, the looking out for the little guy stuff…and we have to hammer those ideas home to make sure people don’t get confused or purposely misled, which is a campaign strategy the Trump campaign (and Republicans in general) have used to much success (still looking at you John DeBerry, and your buddies who sent out $100k of mailers on your behalf).

I don’t really think this is all that complicated, but the national press is stirring up a tempest in a teapot to drive clicks.  That tempest is wrapped in the false equivalence: that since Trump largely ran on identity, so did Clinton…which is bullshit.

Democrats didn’t lose because Clinton said, “I’m a woman, vote for me”, they lost because they didn’t consistently hammer an economic message that resonated with a broad enough group of voters, and weren’t organized enough to counter the identity message pushed by the GOP to drive enough turnout where they needed it most.

That misunderstanding may be related a to an underestimation of the white identity politics pushed by Trump (and the GOP as a general statement since 1968), but its not because Clinton pushed identity over policy. That’s just foolishness.

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