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The Democratic Party’s 2018 View of Identity Politics Is Confusing, and Thus Appears Cynical and Opportunistic

Given its rhetoric, how does the Democratic Party justify supporting white, male machine politicians over credible female challengers, LGBT people, and people of color?

Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running to unseat the powerful Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's 14th Congressional District, but the establishment of the party continues. (Photo: Facebook)

Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running to unseat the powerful Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's 14th Congressional District, but the establishment of the party continues. (Photo: Facebook)

The 2016 presidential election was the peak, at least thus far, for the tactics of identity politics in U.S. elections. In the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton’s potential status as the first female candidate was frequently used not only to inspire her supporters but also to shame and malign those who supported other candidates, particularly Bernie Sanders.

In February 2016 — at the height of the Clinton-Sanders battle — former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduced Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire rally by predicting a grim afterlife for female supporters of Sanders, while Clinton and Cory Booker cheered: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” she announced.

 

Though Albright apologized in the New York Times for her insensitive phrasing after a backlash ensued, she did reaffirm her central point: “When women are empowered to make decisions, society benefits. They will raise issues, pass bills and put money into projects that men might overlook or oppose.”

At roughly the same time, Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem said female supporters of Sanders were motivated by a primitive impulse to follow “the boys,” who, she claimed, were behind Sanders. Just this week, the Clinton loyalist and Salon writer Amanda Marcotte said Trump won “because some dudes had mommy issues,” then clarified that she was referring to left-wing misogynists who did not support Clinton: “I also have those moments where I’m like, ‘Maybe we need to run Bland White Guy 2020 to appease the fake socialists and jackass mansplainers.'”

By no means did these rhetorical tactics make their debut appearance in the 2016 Democratic primary. Indeed, the far more vitriolic 2008 primary — between Clinton and Barack Obama — was driven in large part by similar identity-based accusations from both camps.

Clinton supporters constantly accused Obama supporters of being driven by misogyny for opposing the first female president (a charge voiced by Clinton herself), while Obama supporters routinely depicted the Clintons and their supporters as racist due to the nature of their opposition to the first African-American president.

The term “Bernie bros,” which became so widespread as a term of recrimination against Sanders supporters in 2016, was actually conceptually invented in 2008 to malign Obama supporters. Rebecca Traister, then of Salon, wrote under the headline: “Hey, Obama boys: Back Off Already!” about women reporting “the sexism they felt coming from their brothers and husbands and friends and boyfriends [who supported Obama over Clinton]; some described the suspicion that their politically progressive partners were actually uncomfortable with powerful women.”

Read the full piece, with possible updates, at The Intercept.

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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