For better or worse – and that is a matter to be determined – the arguments about whether the Democratic Party should follow Bernie Sanders or go in another direction pits a couple of valid perspectives about the party’s best political direction against one another.
(I apologize for that opening paragraph.)
To reduce the two opposing views down to a near-ridiculous level, it’s
Class politics versus Identity politics
Which, of course, is nonsense, but it clarifies things in a way that allows a short blog post to be written and read. Let’s agree the whole thing is more complex and will still be waiting for us at the end of this post. So –
Or, in other words, socialism. Democratic Socialism, to be more precise. Bernie is a Democratic Socialist; so am I. I’ve been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America since Election Night 2000. That was my response to Bush’s victory (or, on the night, apparent victory).
This is the value of socialism to the Democrats’ cause.
One, the socialist perspective shows how class – ie, economic – issues are shared across identities. The wage/wealth gap hammers virtually every demographic that isn’t the 10%. Ethnicity, gender, region, occupation, whatever; the injustice of our economic situation in the United States does hard across the board.
Two, the democratic socialist perspective should, I believe, go further and identify not our common suffering but how certain demographics suffer more. We know, for example, that women of color are harmed by our economy more than men of any kind. (I’m speaking in generalities here; specific variances from this norm do not undo my point.)
America is not a melting pot, of course; we’re the junk drawer where things get tossed in, mixed up, forgotten about, dug through…. Ok, enough of that lame metaphor. But this country has always been diverse, and that will not change human diversity ends.
Identity politics is the overt attempt to look at this diversity, to hold all communities with equal respect, and to support political and governmental actions that benefit both the many and the specific few (as compared to the many).
It’s not special treatment or any other conservative code word for “the wrong people”. It’s an honest appreciation of the true nature of life in this country. The needs of women do not match the needs of men, and the needs of women of color do not match those of white women – and we can get even more granular.
Conservatives and thoughtless liberals get tired of identity politics because it’s complex, messy, and a hell of a lot of work. To which I reply, tough noogies. Lots of Americans have lots of different challenges, and each one deserves the same energy, care, and application of governmental resources as the other.
Taken together, these two perspectives or approaches to politics does two things:
One: It brings all communities together because they all suffer under the universal impact of economic injustice.
Two: It declares to various communities that the specifics of injustice on them matters just as much as the general impacts.
The Democratic Party cannot, must not, choose between these two perspectives (or call them ideologies if you must). It needs both perspectives, both approaches to politics.
We need the socialist focus on the economy, on class, etc.
We need the personal and humane focus on different communities, whatever the basis for differentiating those communities.
The Sanders campaign in 2016 did not sufficiently account for what we call identity politics; the Clinton campaign fell short similarly on economic issues. What was needed, to be just a bit flippant about it, was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup approach: the combining of these two seemingly disparate politic approaches into a single, delicious presidential victory.
And given how many people are now joining the party to work for victory in 2018 and 2020, we do not have to declare that one approach or the other is superior. We have the capacity for both. In the Rust Belt, the focus on economic issues may prove more effective; identity politics might dominate in the coastal areas. But neither approach will succeed in isolation from, or opposition to, the other.
We can be the party of both. We are the party of both. A battle over one versus the other makes us a house divided against itself, and we know how well that works out.