Who’s Got an Identity Problem?

Republicans still assume that the only reason Barack Obama became POTUS is that he is black, because all those non-Republican voters are into “identity politics” and are attracted only by gimmicky candidates, i.e. racial minorities and women. A non-gimmicky candidate would, of course, be a white man.

Along these lines, Josh Kraushaar writes that Democrats have an “identity problem.”

The question of the moment–as the competitive GOP field grows larger by the day–is why Hillary Clinton is barely being challenged for the Democratic nomination. And the answer lies within the changing nature of her party. …

…  the main reason why Clinton is a near-lock for the nomination is that Democrats have become the party of identity. They’re now dependent on a coalition that relies on exciting less-reliable voters with nontraditional candidates. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery. As the first female major-party nominee for president, Clinton hopes to win decisive margins with women voters and is planning to run on that historic message–in sharp contrast to her campaign’s argument playing down that uniqueness in 2008.

Do you remember that HRC “played down” her gender in 2008? I sure don’t.

It’s part of why freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren inspires excitement from the party’s grassroots, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose progressive record in office set liberal benchmarks, isn’t even polling at 1 percent nationally. It’s why Sherrod Brown, a populist white male senator from a must-win battleground state is an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s why Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a runner-up to be Obama’s running mate in 2008, quickly jumped on the Clinton bandwagon instead of pursuing any national ambitions. On Bernstein’s list of 16 possible challengers, 15 are white and nine are white males. That makes many of them untenable standard-bearers in the modern Democratic Party.

Of course, being a white male is an “identity” also. As it says here, people who vote Republican tend to be older, whiter, wealthier, and much more conservative than the public at large. See also this new research from Pew, showing that the demographic groups that strongly identify with the Republican Party are Mormons; white evangelical Protestants; white southerners; white men; whites; and people aged 69-86. I’d call that an identity problem.

But old white wingnuts are dedicated voters, which everyone else (alas) is not. Does “everyone else” need a gimmick to be inspired to vote?

It isn’t that simple. The real reason Hillary Clinton has been crowned Miss Inevitable is that, for whatever reason, Democratic Party insiders have decided she’s going to win, and news media go along with this. I don’t think her support in the base is as strong as polls might show. Polls this early are all about party loyalty and name recognition; Hillary Clinton has name recognition running over, but Martin O’Malley has no name recognition outside of Maryland. And there is no leftie media/think tank infrastructure supporting a backbench of wannabee candidates as there is on the Right; O’Malley is on his own to get attention.

I like O’Malley, and I like Sherrod Brown, too, and would happily support either one over HRC for the Democratic nomination. And I think a lot of other potential Democratic voters would feel the same way if they ever learn who O’Malley and Brown even are. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has a history of going squishy at inopportune times; I’m not sure if I would favor him over HRC. I’d have to think about that.

I do run into people on the Web who say they support Clinton because they think it’s time we got a woman president, but I seriously don’t think HRC’s gender will help her much in the general. Likewise race by itself doesn’t get anyone elected; there have been other African-Americans running for President before Barack Obama. A candidate needs more than a gimmick.

Progressives fell in love with Elizabeth Warren because she gives voice to a genuinely progressive perspective, not because she’s female. Notice we don’t exactly genuflect to Diane Feinstein. I honestly believe a white man who said the same things as well as Warren does would be considered a champion of progressivism also. It may be that, all other things being equal, not being a white male might be a small advantage to the Democratic base, but it’s not the primary factor in choosing a candidate. I doubt there’d be many crossover African-American votes for Dr. Ben Carson, for example, right-wing expectations to the contrary.

Kraushaar continues,

Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.

Yet among minorities, the Democratic advantage has mostly held or increased–even from the high-water mark of 2008 for Democrats. Pew found 81 percent of blacks identified as Democrats in 2008; that proportion is now 80 percent. Democrats have lost some support from Hispanics since Obama’s landslide in 2008, but it’s at higher levels than before Obama’s presidency. In 2014, 56 percent of Latinos identified as Democrats–a larger share than when Democrats swept Congress in 2006 (51 percent). And the fast-growing bloc of Asian-American voters now consider themselves more Democratic than when Obama first took office–in 2008, 57 percent identified with the Democrats, while 65 percent now do. To get these voters to show up, Democrats need to recruit candidates who reflect their newfound diversity. …

But while nominating a diverse slate of candidates is a laudable goal, there’s great risk when a party becomes obsessed with identity over issues. It fuels racial polarization, where one’s party label or positions on issues becomes synonymous with race or ethnicity. There’s less coherent connection among their constituents’ interests–beyond gender or the color of one’s skin. If Clinton runs a biography-focused campaign, it will require her to be more open and authentic–traits she has never demonstrated in her long career in public life.

For all the GOP’s recent internal struggles, the dividing lines within the party have primarily been over policy: tea-partiers against the establishment, Chamber of Commerce rank-and-file versus social conservatives, hawks against Paulites. Among Democrats, the dividing lines are much more personal. If Clinton wins a third straight Democratic presidential term, it will reaffirm the power of identity in American politics. But if she loses, Democrats will find themselves in a messy identity crisis, without many leaders left to turn to.

In other words, Kraushaar assumes that the only reason women and nonwhites are moving away from the Republican Party is that Those People are into “identity” and don’t care about policy, whereas the party whose voting base gets whiter and more XY-chromosome oriented by the second attracts people who are interested in policy.

Let us pause to let the deeper assumption behind that assumption soak in.

Now that we’ve all caught our breath, let’s go on …

I don’t need to repeat to all of you the many kinds of government policy that impact women more than men, the poor more than the wealthy, and nonwhites more than whites. You know this stuff as well as I do. Republicans remain oblivious to these issues, however, no matter how many times they are pointed out to them. It’s like they’re blinded by the white.

Likewise, I think the reasons the Dem base doesn’t reliably turn out to vote, especially in Midterms, has more to do with falling expectations that government will become responsive to their needs, and of course with white male wingnuts are allowed to run everything that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s complicated.

13 thoughts on “Who’s Got an Identity Problem?

  1. when a party becomes obsessed with identity over issues

    Good god on a graham cracker. Are these things not issues? Ensuring affordable medical care… slowing climate change… requiring a liveable minimum wage… preventing businesses from misusing “religious freedom” in order to reverse decades of civil rights protections?

    Oh, wait; that last one does involve “identity.” As a human, anyway.

  2. If Clinton runs a biography-focused campaign, it will require her to be more open and authentic—traits she has never demonstrated in her long career in public life.”

    After 20+ years, there is nothing about Hillary that se don’t know.
    Now that doesn’t meant that our Reich-Wing KKKrazies won’t think of something.
    But it’ll have to be pr4tty damn good!

    Outside of that, great analysis, maha~ 🙂

  3. Remember the old advertising used for Levy’s Rye bread?…” You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s”.
    Well, in the same vein it can be said: You don’t have to be black to see and to understand the racism built into our laws and institutions. You don’t have to be gay or transgender-ed to see the hatred and discrimination fostered by the Repuglican party. And you don’t have to be a female to understand the injustices and degradation’s inflicted upon women by the religious right and their repuglican lapdog politicians.
    As a senior southern white( Hispanic actually, but close enough to pass for an Italian) male the only identity crisis I’m having is identifying with the values set forth in the American credo that don’t seem to align with our current reality.

  4. The irony is that Dems have a deep bench and we have but one (admittedly highly qualified) likely candidate (so far, anyway); Republicans have NO bench to speak (in spite of their numbers in congress and the states), yet a dozen seem ready to put a on their big shoes and squirting carnations and join the clown parade. The consequence of Republicans having purged all their party members who could speak complete sentences.

  5. Well, if anybody wants to increase their liberty…I’d recommend voting for Rand Paul..Nobody does liberty like Rand!

  6. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery.

    Maybe Mitt Romney should be factored into that statement. I mean is it a case of Obama turning out voters or Mitt turning off voters? Personally I resented being characterized as a deadbeat moocher who never had a desire to learn a work ethic and only exist to feed off the government teat.

  7. Bernie Sanders, the white (tho Jewish), Elizabeth Warren. The fact that he’s Jewish does that make it identity politics too? HRC thrills me not at all, I don’t know anything about O’Mally but would certainly support him over Hillary if he’s progressive enough. Hillary’s winning because she has won the primary before the primary; the party and money support. The only thing that would get me out the door to vote for Clinton is that she’s not a repug, and the thot of the Federal gov’t being completely controlled by Reds sends s shiver down my spine. President Walker with a repug house and senate should scare a lot of people.

  8. Swami: I’m sure you are not a deadbeat moocher. I am of the 47% as I do not pay federal income taxes because my only income is Social Security. But I am not a deadbeat either. I worked for many years, paid taxes, obeyed the law, etc., etc. It is my turn to relax a little. ( I just looked out the window and there is a squirrel swishing his tail at me. Not sure if he is laughing or agreeing.) This is just simply where I am in my life. We are all in a different place. There are times I wish I would have planned my finances better but then I chose to move around, not stay at one job my whole life to have a pension. I saved a little money along the way, then took time off, spent it and started over. That may not be a good work ethic but that was my choice and I had a lot of experiences that I would have missed if I had done it differently. Also, I found out I did not like the stock market and could not invest that way and of course, savings never paid much interest. So, yes, I depend on SS income which is not much but I can survive and have a good life and I do not feel guilty about it. I did my traveling earlier and now I just want to stay home. And to hell with anyone who wants to criticize me.

  9. Another problem with Kraushaar’s column is that it ignores a couple of important points about party ID in 2008, his starting point for comparisons.

    In 2008, the percentage of people who identified themselves as Republicans was relatively low, thanks to the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. Also, the percentage of people who identified themselves as Democrats was relatively high, because of the historic campaign of Barack Obama.

    The movement Kraushaar sees of white voters moving to the Republican side is likely due, at least in part, to the party ID numbers rebounding from those factors.

  10. “And there is no leftie media/think tank infrastructure supporting a backbench of wannabee candidates as there is on the Right; O’Malley is on his own to get attention.”

    That’s a large part of the problem.
    Democrats do a lousy job of getting more exposure for younger Dem politicians.

    But let some GOP clown from Podunk win the race for dogcatcher, and s/he’s billed as Presidential material, and is thrust onto the Sunday gab-fests.

    I rarely see Sen. Warren on those shows. I think the hosts and other guests know that she’s way smarter than they are, and so, the bookers invite someone who they’re sure will say what they always say – I’m looking at you, Sen’s McCain and Graham!!!

  11. Very nice job Maha. I like the way you often put in words things I hadn’t conceptualized yet.
    I had a couple of thoughts while I was reading. I think the Dem voters don’t reliably turn out is because they aren’t inspired. The right is on 24/7 365. They are big and bold with even the most crazy of schemes. Dems are terrible at stirring the pot. Liz Warren is popular for this very reason. She is not shy about what she is saying and she says it with confidence and determination. You can see that she is not trying to play some middle ground or be inoffensive to everyone. She is bold and confident. Those qualities are what the Democratic party needs. They need to inspire people to vote for them instead of expecting it as the lesser evil.

    There is somebody like that right now that everyone is ignoring. Bernie Sanders. I know he is an independent but I think he would surely run as a Democrat if he ran. I also know he has proclaimed himself a Democratic Socialist. Oh noes, socialist! That’s actually the beauty of Bernie Sanders, he’s been there a long time and he knows all the games and just how they are going to tar him. I’m betting Bernie can handle them. Once people hear him and what he actually says its hard to find it very radical. It’s a pretty much we are all in this together thing he is talking about. He’s not trying to turn America upside down or anything. It’s not radical and people will see that. I’d be overjoyed to see him run just for the dose of reality he brings to the table.
    And grannyeagle , love it, spot on.

  12. ronspri,
    I LOOOOOOOOVES me some Bernie!

    However, it is sad to say, he has no – zip, zero. nodda, zilch, none, not none ever – chance of winning.

    He’s a self-proclaimed “Sociialist – and hence, no matter what great things he has to say, or how often he says them – he’ll always be the 3 ounce gorilla in the room!

    As Saintt Ronald “Of, Hey you, woman that I’m married to – what’s your name again? – what the F*ck did you do with my keys?!?!?!?!?!” Reagan said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help!”

    Now, “The most terrifying words in English language are: ‘There is no Federal government and so,, THERE IS NO HELP!!!

Comments are closed.