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Against IDentity Politics

December 30, 2016

If Dems pin their electoral hopes on putting together majorities by IDentifying self-identifying groups of voters who are suffering injustices based on America’s pervasive bigotries, and saying to those voters, we see your identity and we abhor your specific injustice, therefore life will go better for you if you elect us, they are on the right side of compassion and justness, but they are playing into the hands of Republicans/bigots, who do not share that compassion or that desire for democratic equality of human worth and opportunity to live and prosper, as persons and families. The Republicans can (and do) simply agree to the identification of those groups, and go about negating the power of those voters, as a further act of bigotry. They suppress the number of voters who actually get to vote; they gerrymander the application of those voters who can’t be suppressed (take a look at some of these maps—you won’t believe it); they tell lies, to and about those groups; and they divide and conquer by riling up bigots to vote as a self-identifying group, against Dem groups; and they tell voters who do not self-ID in one of those groups that the Dems are only interested in making life easy for them Others, at your expense.

Republicans are not democrats. They don’t care if what they do isn’t democratic, or isn’t compassionate. They just want to win elections, so that they can exercise power, in order to monopolize wealth. Those are their principles, as a party; and they are intensely principled.

The alternative for Dems, which Bernie exemplified and which is emerging with the Progressive wing of the party, is to be issue-based, with the issues defined by universal human rights and needs. E.g. peace, modification of global warming, availability of the elemental resources (earth, air, fire, and water), health care, social services and security, education, individual decision-making in private life, the right to vote. That approach is the key to winning majority support on the local, state, and national levels; it is more difficult for Republicans to counter with their key of ID politics; and it is broadly based on compassion and justice, while being no less effective (indeed probably more effective) in addressing the specific injustices being experienced by bigot-identified groups.

This essay by Jason Kander, “What Being a [remarkably effective] Progressive in a Red State Has Taught Me” (Huff Post) makes the case well. Paraphrasing Obama, all Americans are purple; Hillary, we’re stronger that color; Bernie, that’s the future that the Founders believed in, and it’s still believable.

[Update a few hours later:  At TPM John Judis offers this clear explanation of what IDPol is and isn’t (in an historical context in which he was very much a part).]

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