Democrats Should Fight For, Not Discard, So-Called “Identity Politics”

By Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams

In 2008, for the first time in our history, Americans elected a black president and re-elected him again 4 years later despite a rising tide of big money and vicious resentment on the right. President Obama’s success made him the most popular Democrat in the past half century. His victory appeared to represent a shift in the Democrats’ electoral college advantage that might forever change America. You bet the GOP was scared. His presidency fulfilled the promise that everyone in America could reach for equality, even if we weren’t quite there yet.

The Obama coalition was so strong, in fact, that the only way the Democrats could lose was if there was an internal fracture, a split in the party — and better yet, the reason for that split someone who had been complaining about and lecturing Democrats for years, someone who was known for attacking Wall Street. What better way to destroy the democratic frontrunner than that kind of friendly fire?

Bernie Sanders went after Hillary so viciously that he might as well have run as a third party spoiler candidate. He did the majority of the damage, with Putin’s trolls leading the charge, not to mention hacking and email dumps all intended to divide Democrats, long before the GOP finished the job. No one on Team Sanders ever had a single clue this was going on and even now can’t stand it that it’s true.

Though there’s nothing more crucial right now than choosing the correct direction for the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders has decided that the first thing he wants on the chopping block is the dreaded bugaboo of “identity politics” to chase after his lifelong dream of Making America Sweden Again. It never was Sweden. It will never be Sweden. He says he’s ashamed of the Democrats because they can’t talk to whites in rural areas of America.

He’s not the only one advocating dumping “identity politics.” The New York Times has posted an op-ed by Mark Penn, who advocates moving the Democratic Party’s center to take down Trump, as Bill Clinton did to daddy Bush in 1992. At that time, the GOP had been in power since Nixon, from 1968 to 1976. One brief ill-fated term for Carter put the Democrats back in charge from 1980 to 1992. Then it was back to GOP business as usual. Each Republican president finding new ways to loot the middle class with suspiciously orchestrated cycles of boom and bust.

That kind of realignment of wealth will buy a hell of a lot of power. Too much power. A vulgar, obscene and menacing level of power. Since cleaning up the messes left by this systematic Republican pillaging have always fallen on Democrats, our party’s constant responsibility to protect the rights and well-being of average citizens has often been overwhelming, leaving us awash in division and indecision. This is no accident. It’s been engineered by people playing politics like a game of money-grab while honorable people have their eye on actual social values. Being a Republican is easy: take care of yourself. Being a democrat is harder: take care of yourself and everyone else.

Clinton was like a gift from god to the Democrats in 1992. We had lost so many times before that. But what worked then isn’t going to work now. We’ve changed. We changed after FDR, changed after JFK, changed after Clinton and now after Obama we’ve changed. And we’re not going back.

In de-selecting “identity politics,” Mark Penn and Bernie Sanders are obliterating the Obama legacy, dismantling a powerful coalition and essentially handing power back over to the GOP for who knows how long.

Democrats made great strides shifting away from a racist past when the Dixiecrats ruled the party, but that evolution was distressingly slow. Black families were able to take advantage of some of the economic policies under FDR’s New Deal, but Roosevelt shied away from lynching laws for fear of alienating the Dixiecrats, though he would later try to make up for this. The federal government promoted segregation and excluded black families from building the American dream for themselves and their families. They were blocked from buying homes, blocked from attending the best schools, blocked from employment. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s that the Democratic Party got a fucking clue and made sure their policies embraced higher ideals championed by JFK — who was as close to a Civil Rights president as we were going to get at the time — but even JFK and later LBJ resisted alienating those Dixiecrats. When LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act (protections that have now been dismantled by a conservative Supreme Court) he knew that was it. The DNC was changed after that. By the way, the former Dixiecrat voting bloc is alive and well and just helped to elect Donald Trump.

When President Obama ran for office in 2008 much was made about how he broadened his appeal and did not make it a “black thing.” But he WAS black His family was black. They moved into the White House which was built by slaves. That mattered then and it should matter now.

After Hillary ran as Obama’s successor, women’s rights, too, were on the chopping block.

In 1972, George McGovern made the decision to neglect issues of utmost importance to the burgeoning feminist movement by largely leaving their concerns off the platform — specifically reproductive rights, equality in employment, and child care. McGovern believed, and many agreed, that these matters of equal rights would be seen as “too radical” and risk alienating the base. As it turned out, McGovern — the Bernie Sanders of his time — lost in an historic landslide to Nixon.

No one can say whether leaving the women’s movement out of the equation made a difference or not, but there is clear cut proof that it certainly didn’t help; McGovern could not have possibly done any worse.

In fact, if you look over the platforms of the Democratic Party in the recent past, aligning with identity politics always helps, not hurts our candidates. That was true with Bill Clinton in 1992 when the Democratic platform included this:

It was certainly true with Barack Obama’s platform in 2008 that had important provisions devoted to women:

Why on earth would anyone turn away from vocal, powerful and highly engaged voting blocs like women, the LGBT community and African Americans — for decades the most loyal and important Democratic voting bloc? To chase after young white millennials because they have the future buying power?

Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, he neglected to even bother reaching out to black voters during the primary and when he realized his mistake he wrote it off as “conservative,” meaning it doesn’t help in the general so it doesn’t matter. Yeah, it matters. No modern democrat since Civil Rights has won without winning the black southern vote in the primary. So now Team Sanders is trying to repair the damage they’ve done but no one in the press really cares — it’s all white working class all of the time, with America’s equally important voices silenced.

The most powerful politician the Democrats have to lead them right now is Barack Obama. To pretend like his presidency didn’t count, that it didn’t transform the party and the country, is dumb.

Bernie Sanders is no threat to the GOP. And once he becomes a threat they will eat him alive. Right now, he’s helping them make their case that the Democrats and are weak and have no leadership.

Obama scares Trump, still. He scares the Republicans too. Why, because he represents a changing America. He brought the Democrats together and created a threatening path towards a different future, not one they wanted. They’ve been systematically stripping it away, from environmental regulations, to healthcare, to women’s rights — you name it. Instead of resisting this, the Bernie side is advocating embracing it. Yes, by all means let’s reach out to them. Keep your identity politics to yourself.

When Hillary Clinton said we’re stronger together she was right. It might not have been a sexy brand millennials like stretching across their t-shirts but it was true. We are and remain stronger together. The Democrats know who they are. They don’t need people instructing or deconstructing them.

We must resolve to fight for a stronger, better America, as its been defined for more than two centuries: a melting pot and land of opportunity. When we stop trying to appeal to old white men who still believe they run the world, America will once again stand for opportunity and equality for everyone.

Preserve and fight for the path Obama laid out for us. It’s worth fighting for. Save the ACA, fight for women’s rights, fight for unarmed black men being shot, fight for transgender men and women who simply want to use the bathroom without fear of being assaulted. Fight for equality, fight for truth, fight for a free press, fight against bullies like Trump and his racist band of thugs. Fight against the daily torment of a lunatic who doesn’t know how to run the country, and is itching to propel us into senseless war. Fight against white supremacy. And yes, fight for the workers in small town America whose jobs have been replaced, whose futures are bleak. Fight for inclusion, not exclusion.

Fight against their malignant idea of making America great by enabling the worst of them to oppress the best of us. America can’t go back. We won’t go back.