Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio., challenged Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA., for house minority leader in 2016. This year he has chosen not to run. Ryan, who is a white male, is probably making a wise call to not challenge the left’s new orthodoxy, which is identity politics.
Identity politics of the left venerates women and minorities, while seeking to exclude men, especially white men, from political leadership. Its more general impact is to alienate white male voters from the Democratic Party. Ryan, sensing which way the wind is blowing, encouraged a more junior member of Congress to challenge Pelosi. Not surprisingly, the person he chose was a black female from Ohio.
Identity politics is defined by Webster’s as, “politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethic, social or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interest or concerns of any larger political group.”
All Democratic House Speakers, prior to Pelosi, were white men. However, those defending the Pelosi Speakership have rallied around the hashtag #FiveWhiteMen to demean Pelosi’s opposition, particularly Ryan. The opposition is actually led by a female member of Congress and includes two Latinos, but the new orthodoxy is an exercise in power, not scholarship.
What has not been discussed is the racist and sexist nature of the hashtag. It was created when Pelosi criticized an immigration task force saying, “The five white guys I call them, you know.” She speculated, “Are they going to open a hamburger stand next or what?” The task force included her deputy, Congressman Stenny Hoyer, D-MD., and fellow Democrat, Senator Richard Durbin, D-IL., from Illinois.
The fact that the hashtag has an inherently negative connotation and is reflexively embraced by the left as such, demonstrates how acclimated the left is to this new sexism and racism. Criticizing white men is accepted, encouraged, and, as Pelosi’s comments reflect, considered funny.
The left’s embrace of the new orthodoxy is chronicled in “Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations” by Amy Chua and “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics” by Mark Lilla. Chua made the case that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 was facilitated by the left’s embrace of identity politics. This argument has not been widely embraced, but Chua was one of the few who predicted Trump’s victory.
The Republicans have embraced conservative white identity politics since at least 1964. When the civil rights act was passed in 1964, Democrats were criticized as communists and socialists for supporting civil and voting rights. The Southern campaign strategy emphasizing states’ rights, to eliminate federal protections for civil and voting rights, was followed by Republican Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968. This could be considered the orthodox use of identity politics.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan appealed to white voters, by speaking in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a city where civil rights workers were slaughtered and focused his speech on expanding states’ rights. In his speech Reagan made a clear racial appeal using code:
I still believe the answer to any problem lies with the people. I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level, and I believe we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.Ronald Reagan in 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair
Since WWII GOP Presidential candidates have avoided explicit appeals to racist sentiments. They have deployed code words or dog-whistles like “states’ rights” or “welfare queens” to let white voters know, when push comes to shove, they will be favored in public policy decisions.
That was the case until 2015. Trump made racism, or at least bigotry, explicit. In his announcement speech he claimed Mexicans were “rapists” “bringing drugs” into the U.S. He also proposed a ban on, anyone of Muslim faith, entering the U.S. He laid waste to his Republican opponents in the primary and won a majority of states in the electoral college.
That the left would want to create a mirror image of conservative’s dismal record on race and gender is disturbing. But it is a step some leading Democrats, like U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-CA., are openly encouraging.
Harris, from California, is considered a possible Presidential aspirant. Her support for identity politics may be confused but she is a strong proponent of the practice. Harris slammed critics of identity politics saying, “Its purpose is to minimize and marginalize issues that impact all of us. It is used to try and shut us up.”
For the Democrats to regain its national footing and the Republicans to be more responsible in governing, both parties must seek to unite and not divide. They must seek to be inclusive and not judgmental and exclusive. Sadly the identity era means intolerance is on the rise both on the left and right. This is bad for America and Democrats need to show the tolerance and inclusiveness with which liberalism was long associated.