Remember last week when some folks were reassuring us that criticism of “identity politics” in the wake of the Democrats’ loss wasn’t code for throwing marginalized people under the bus? Here’s TPM’s report on a speech Bernie Sanders delivered in Boston yesterday:
In a speech Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) urged attendees to move away from “identity politics” and towards policies aimed at helping the working class.
Sanders spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 mostly young people at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, according to a report from WBUR.
“The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said, according to the same report. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”
Sanders also urged the crowd to move the party away from what he called “identity politics.”
“It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough,” he said, according to the same report. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”
Let’s unpack some of the insulting, revisionist implications that follow from this speech. My first “Go Fuck Yourself, Sanders” goes to the implication that Clinton ever asked anyone to vote for her just because she’s a woman. She didn’t, so fuck that bullshit, and fuck Sanders for implying that she did.
The second goes to the wholesale purchase of the cherished and increasingly accepted in some circles wingnut-fomented meme that the Democrats don’t represent “real America” and got what was coming to them for turning their back on the working class in favor of embracing the elites. That’s a lie we believe at our peril.
The DLC is dead, and good riddance. I agree there has been too little attention paid to those hurt by globalization, too much happy talk about the jobs that would flow in from that process, too much eagerness on the part of some Democrats to curry favor with big donors. We’ve debated that endlessly here throughout PBO’s two terms; it was debated endlessly in the primaries, and that message was incorporated into the Democratic Party platform. Sanders didn’t invent it, and he doesn’t own it now.
But since we’re the reality-based party, supposedly capable of handling nuance and complexity, we can — in theory — simultaneously acknowledge the accomplishments of a highly successful two-term Democratic president who pulled us from the brink of a second Great Depression, got an additional 20 million people access to health care coverage, helped make sure marriage equality became the law of the land, turned a catastrophically high flood of job losses into a stable, less than 5% unemployment economy, etc.
During the primary, Sanders shit all over that, as did Trump in the general. But it doesn’t follow that a Sanders-like message — from anyone, including Sanders — would have been a winner. For every one WWC vote an “everything sucks after eight years of Obama” platform might have pulled in, how many votes would be lost from Democrats who believe in this president and have supported his agenda? Greater than Trump’s margins in the Rust Belt, is my guess.
And finally, what I find most infuriating about Sanders’ take is that he’s ignoring the people who actually DID embrace identity politics in this election cycle: That would be Donald J. Trump and the millions of voters who embraced WHITE identity politics. The Democrats ran on an inclusive message. Trump did the opposite. Again, for every WWC vote we’d gain by embracing a very specific kind of identity politics to chase Trump voters, how many would Democrats lose? Well, mine, for one.
Two final thoughts: the first is that politicians are running around trying to pound the round peg of this election loss into the square hole of their own agenda. Yes, we need to examine the causes and learn the appropriate lessons, but they are myriad. Any simple solution, such as turning the party’s soul over to a man who couldn’t win the Democratic primary, would be compounding the problem rather than solving it, IMO. Yes to sharpening the economic message to more loudly broadcast an appeal to ALL voters. Yes to making sure future candidates’ messages — and arguably the candidates themselves — excite people since we seem to be in the reality TV era of politics. But not just “no” but “FUCK NO” to the idea that the Democrats lost because of “identity politics.”
Second, so much of this intramural squabbling is crab bucket politics. We’ve got an unhinged, pathological liar, authoritarian conman poised to take office, and he is shaking out the KKK bedsheets and emptying the armoires where the brown shirts are stored to fill his administration with the very worst pricks imaginable. A man who is openly setting up a kleptocracy to funnel loot to the pack of parasites who are accompanying him to DC. A man who will rage-tweet all night about perceived disrespect shown at a Broadway show to his beady-eyed, bible-humping VP and remain utterly silent about the hundreds of hate crimes psychos nationwide are perpetrating in his name.
Perhaps we have more important things to focus on, is what I’m saying. And it’s flat-out unseemly for a politician with standing in the Democratic Party to focus elsewhere, even if he does have a book to flog.