Democrats Just Can’t Quit Identity Politics

By | 2017-03-02T20:45:16+00:00 March 2nd, 2017|
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Imagine you’re a Democrat. Now imagine waking up on November 9, 2016 to the realization that your god is dead. The central idea animating your political party—nay, your entire sense of purpose and justice in the world—has betrayed you as a fraud. The thing you championed and nurtured and fertilized with a care better spent on hothouse tomatoes, rotted and then splattered as it was tossed in your face.

What is that Leftist “god”? It is identity politics.

Do you bury him or do you redouble the insane hope that believing harder will resurrect him? On Tuesday night, the Democrats answered that question.

They walked into the House chamber thinking that they were armed for bear. The House Democratic Women’s Working Group, evoking the memory of their recently defeated presidential candidate as she appeared this summer in her “historic” speech before the Democratic National Committee, showed up dressed in white as would vestal virgins suffragettes angry feminists who didn’t get their way in the current year. Perhaps we should be grateful that they left their pussyhats at home? Lest we get any crazy ideas about solidarity between all Democratic women, however, the black flower caucus was there to remind us that some of these women are not only female, they are black. Otherwise we might have failed to notice. They’re angry, too, by the way. So unity!

And, of course, we can’t forget the invited guests of several Democratic legislators, the “undocumented immigrants” all of whom are only here to better America, lending us their diversity in order to give us our strength. Or something.

But all of this was eclipsed by the grand finale, the coup de grâce, the pièce de résistance in Democrat Identity Politics: former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s response to the president from the cozy confines of a Lexington diner. Surrounded by a gaggle of (mainly white) people he described as his “neighbors”—but who more looked like a group of tired, hungry, and bored hostages—the septuagenarian Beshear stumbled over his lines, calling himself first a “proud Democrat” and then a “proud Republican.” Realizing his mistake, he tried to correct himself midstream but said “and a Democrat” and “mostly an American.” Freud would have things to say about this, but I’m no psychoanalyst. I just think it was a word fitly misspoken, especially for a man engaged in such a pathetic and naked attempt at identity politics.

To paraphrase a line shared by my friend Paula Steiner (whom you can listen to here): In order to regain ground lost with “the forgotten man,” Democrats trotted out “the forgotten Democrat.”

Although Kentucky has been a reliably Republican state since 2008, their choice of McCain over Obama in that year was the first time the state had not chosen the winner in a presidential election since 1960. The outcome should have given Republican election observers more pause. Suddenly, a swing state became less “swingy.” A Bellwether state became less, what? Bellwethery?

What could explain this? Barack Obama and Democratic Identity Politics.

And that’s about all Beshear’s speech amounted to. The sleepy looking governor was plopped down there in the middle of America with his Kentucky drawl and his invocations of a Baptist preacher upbringing, to emphasize the appearance of things over the substance. Beshear was supposed to be an avatar for the good ole’ boy vote; just another old white guy from flyover country. “Look, boys! They’re raising the flag! Hey, Appalachian voters! Remember us? We’ve got ’em, too. Come back!”

But that’s just it. With Tuesday’s pathetic display—along with the countless other protests, demonstrations, and marches we’ve watched unfold since the election—Democrats are telegraphing their contempt for American ideals. They don’t see their voters as individuals with opinions and interests shaped by anything other than tribal identity.

It can’t be that the people in the states formerly considered part of the “Blue Wall” simply rejected their prescriptions because they considered them to be bad for the country and bad for their states. It must be that Democrats forgot to tend to one of the pots on their fire. There must be some “constituency” (and, of course, that’s how Democrats break down citizens, into “constituencies”) Democrats forgot to court placate patronize lie to during the late presidential election.

The substance of Beshear’s speech, such as it was, was all about identity and an argument from the authority this identity was supposed to give him over the identities of Trump and those in his administration. In addition to being a white guy preacher’s son from the South, we were reminded, also of his military service. Trump, on the other hand, is a billionaire and he appointed a bunch of billionaires to serve in his cabinet. That was it. That was the argument.

As I was watching this speech, a friend of mine messaged me, “It’s funny that an older, white Kentuckian with a southern drawl sitting in a diner trying to go after working class middle America looks weak and out of touch compared to an orange business man from NYC speaking from a politician’s podium.” I take his point. There is a certain irony in it and the surface contrast between them is palpable. But, in fact, there’s nothing unusual about American’s overlooking points of origin when searching for what is best for their country.

Hilariously, and with no sense of irony, Beshear quoted Ronald Reagan during his sad display of petered out identity politics, “Our origins matter less than our destination,” he said. Indeed, they do. This is what Americans do. We rise above our circumstances and we look beyond the superficial. We did this when we elevated a man of humble origins, born in a Kentucky log cabin, to the presidency in 1860. And we overlooked them again in 2016, as we elected a billionaire developer from New York City.

About the Author:

Julie Ponzi
Julie Ponzi is Senior Editor of American Greatness. She holds an M.A. in political philosophy and American politics from the Claremont Graduate University. She was an Earhart Fellow and a Bradley Foundation Fellow while studying at Claremont and also earned a Publius Fellowship from The Claremont Institute. Formerly the Director of Academic Programs at the Claremont Institute, she also taught American politics at Azusa Pacific University. Her writing has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, The Online Library of Law and Liberty, The Columbus Dispatch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Washington Times. She was also a regular and long-time contributor to the Ashbrook Center's blog, No Left Turns. She lives in California. You can follow her on Twitter at @JuliePonzi