Going beyond identity in choosing a candidate


One of the interesting things emerging from the current Democratic primary race is the lessening role of identity politics. Having commonalities with a feature of a candidate’s identity, even if that identity has been that of a marginalized group, seems to be no longer sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support for that candidate. Take for example, what happened to Pete Buttigieg at a fundraiser in San Francisco,

At the center of San Francisco’s National LGBTQ Center for the Arts, two queer activists stood up and disrupted a private fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg after he received a question from the audience about his husband, Chasten.

“I’m definitely proud of the fact that a gay candidate has made it thus far, but it’s hard to enjoy or appreciate when his stances are so middle of the road and speak to a predominantly white, upper class audience,” Celi Tamayo-Lee, one of the activists escorted out of the fundraiser, said in an interview before the event.

Friday’s protesters cited many of the same issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community nationwide say are giving them pause – Buttigieg’s unwillingness to support Medicare for All, free college for all, his issues with communities of color, his ties to billionaire donors – all issues that are not specific to the LGBTQ+ community but still affect them at certain intersections.

“We need better, we deserve better,” Adiel Pollydore, a 26-year-old program director with Student Action who is black and queer, told the Guardian. “There’s a level of irony that this event costs hundreds of dollars to attend in the Mission, a historically Latinx and immigrant neighborhood. What does it say that this event is not accessible to the folks that live in the neighborhood where it’s being held?”

It turns out that Sanders leads among LGBTQ+ voters, maybe because he has been well ahead of the curve on gay rights.

Sanders has a long record of support for gay rights. As Burlington mayor in the 1980s, he proclaimed a Gay Pride Day, while during his tenure in the House, he opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a law that barred gay and lesbian military service members from acknowledging their sexual orientation. And in 2009, Sanders endorsed marriage rights for gay couples — three years before then-Vice President Joe Biden did the same.

Remember that the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” were both introduced during the Democratic presidency of Bill Clinton and were part of the ‘liberal’ Democratic orthodoxy of the time.

Although identity is still important and having people break identity barriers in elected office is worth supporting and celebrating, it looks like a candidate cannot take for granted that voters who share some feature of their identity will reflexively support them. Those people will undoubtedly give them a closer look and feel some initial affinity but the candidate has to deliver on the major issues that concern them that often transcend identity.

Comments

  1. says

    One of my wise mentors once told me…

    If you know one person with (or of) X, then you know one person.

    Identity politics, at any level, ignores that truth.

  2. says

    Well, I know a lot of people on my Mexican-American mom’s side of the family. We do have different experiences from Anglos, even me who passes for white, since people say me as my mother’s kid when I was little.

  3. cartomancer says

    I’m not sure minority communities were ever that simplistic in their thinking. Obviously there is a consensus that representation and the public appearance of representation is important, but I doubt it has ever been the case that minority communities have preferred a visible member of their own who ignores their specific needs to someone from the mainstream culture who fights for them.

    Indeed, I would venture to say that the minority experience of not having people who look like you in the political class tends to make minority voters more concerned with policy, issues and background than with identity and appearance. Well, that and the fact the issues and policies tend to have very significant impacts on minority groups -- who often simply can’t afford to vote on optics over issues.

    Though, of course, it would be a mistake to assume there is one monolithic “minority” experience. To take just the LGBT+ experience, which is the one mentioned and the only one I can speak to from an inside position, we have actually had LGBT+ politicians for centuries, they’ve just had to conceal their LGBT status. As a minority that can usually conceal its minority status, we’ve had different experiences from, say, racial minorities who can’t. We’ve experienced members of our own minority who have thrown us under the bus and worked against our interests when they have achieved power, so perhaps we are rather aware that just being “like us” is not enough.

    There is also the fact that our “community” is much looser than most ethnic minority communities. It is not based on family and upbringing and (to any significant degree) shared culture, but is opt-in and manufactured and in many places quite shallow and commercialised. LGBT people come from all points on the economic spectrum, and tend not to have the same economic class interests as one another, whereas many racial minorities (particularly the Black and Native communities in the US) do, by and large, share an economic situation as a result of their historical oppression. As such, whereas Black or Native identity are fairly good indicators that a candidate will share many of the class interests and have an awareness of the historical oppression their people has suffered, LGBT identity often isn’t.

    Buttigieg is a particularly good example of this, given that he is actually fairly new to admitting that he is gay and has not really experienced much by way of discrimination or oppression first-hand. Well, explicit and external oppression anyway -- I cannot speak to how internalised shame and anxieties may have affected him, as they have most certainly affected many gay men around his age, myself included. He has not been on the front lines of the liberation struggle for marriage equality, but he has been a beneficiary of it. His privilege has insulated him from all but the mildest effects of homophobic discrimination. This would not matter so much if his policies and ideals were strongly progressive and pro-LGBT, but they’re not. He’s a milquetoast corporate centrist with a troubling history of ignoring or facilitating racial prejudice. The fact he has consciously rejected his family’s radical left-wing traditions (his father is a prominent Marxist academic) for this pernicious corporatist position also speaks to where his priorities lie.

  4. Holms says

    #2
    Not at all. The mere fact that e.g. Jesse Peterson exists is corroboration of hyphenman’s point.

  5. polishsalami says

    Identity politics is a convenient shield for wealthy liberals to use against any sort of material improvement for workers or the underclass.

  6. says

    @hyphenman:

    I lived through the 90s as an out queer and the 80s as someone sympathetic to queer people even though I was just a kid. (My dad was a doctor who primarily treated cancer, but also treated HIV b/c one of the initial presenting problems was Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which meant going to his office always meant that one or two patients there were gay men.)

    The “identity politics” of queer folk during the 80s and 90s was all about coming out so that people would get to know the queers in their midst, and it wasn’t about knowing a single person. The entire point was to get people to learn that there were multiple, different LGBQ (T & I weren’t priorities then) people in their lives so that they ***couldn’t*** be reduced to a stereotype. “I know one person and therefore I know all people like X” was what queer activism was fighting against.

    The primary antagonist in the queer activist imaginary was HIV, but immediately after that was the tendency to think that all people of group X are the same. And, indeed as treatments for HIV became more common, fighting that tendency to erase individual differences eventually became the most important concern.

    You can’t make fighting that dynamic a primary organizing principle and simultaneously “ignore the truth” that even people who can all be grouped together by quality X are still individuals. We called on our mutual solidarity to encourage each other to and support each other in coming out specifically to clue in the people who clung to stereotypes.

    It was identity politics AND it was fiercely against reduction of individual differences. I wasn’t alive in the 50s and 60s for civil rights movement, but I’m not so presumptuous as to think that just because queers did it they must have been the first and only people to do it. So I’m not saying that I have specific evidence of a humanizing, break-the-stereotypes phase in Black rights activism, but since you were so completely wrong about queer identity politics, I’d be wary of asserting with any confidence, “yeah, but all other ID politics fell into that trap”.

    Queer politics disprove your statement. Since you haven’t provided evidence that there are no other exceptions, I think the prudent thing is just to call bullshit.

    Now, if you want to provide specific examples of specific people making that mistake in specific activist campaigns or writings or speeches, then I’ll be happy to call that mistake out no matter who was making it (even if/where I have made it myself in the past).

    But the general, universalized statement you made is simply not true, and on top of that since the assertion criticizes others for ignoring the facts, is terribly ironic for itself ignoring the obvious facts of recent history which you could have easily checked.

    I could also speak about the trans advocacy movement in which people have for decades resisted one size fits all solutions and promoted the importance of personal autonomy and individual expression, but then Holms would feel the need to tell me that, in fact, all trans* people are the same and hate individuation, which would be a waste of everyone’s time.

  7. says

    @Holms, #5

    Not at all. The mere fact that e.g. Jesse Peterson exists is corroboration of hyphenman’s point.

    As per usual, you are entirely unable to recognize actual points, much less address them accurately.

    The fact that individuals differ from group averages is hyphenman’s premise, not hyphenman’s point. hyphenman’s point was that identity politics always ignores the truth that such differences exist. In order to confirm hyphenman’s point you would have to “confirm” that there are no identity politics movements that acknowledge individuality.

    You do not have such confirmation, so even if you were competent to recognize the difference between a premise and a point your efforts to confirm the point of hyphenman’s #1 would fail spectacularly. But I’m sure you’ll find a way to declare the cloudless, noontime sky pink….

  8. Dunc says

    Replace the term “identity politics” with “class consciousness” or “labour organising” and it should be perfectly obvious why the assertion in #1 is bunk. One does not have to believe that all members of the working class are the same in order to realise that many of their political interests are aligned, not does one have to think that all workers in a particular industry agree on everything to recognise the value of collective bargaining. Similarly, the notion that most members of a given minority identity group have broadly similar experiences viz-a-viz the dominant majority culture does not in any way imply that they’re all clones.

  9. says

    @ Crip Dyke No. 8…

    First, thank you for your detailed reply.
    I worked from Mano lede:

    One of the interesting things emerging from the current Democratic primary race is the lessening role of identity politics. Having commonalities with a feature of a candidate’s identity, even if that identity has been that of a marginalized group, seems to be no longer sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support for that candidate. [Emphasis mine, JH] Take for example, what happened to Pete Buttigieg at a fundraiser in San Francisco,

    I agree with Mano’s paragraph.
    We cannot assume that members of any group will be homogeneous.
    I also think that you and I agree, but are coming from two different directions. If I read you correctly, you rightly assert that any self-identified group may share certain values/goals/aspirations that they wish to achieve to benefit the whole. I do not doubt that that is true.
    My assertion was that for anyone to assume that any group—regardless of their being a part of that group or not— conforms to that observer’s views of that group is an error; they cannot generalize from their particular experience.
    To take Mano’s example, to assume that all individuals who identify in some way as LGBTQ would automatically support Buttigieg because his one of them would be naive. The classic example here would be Log Cabin Republicans and the opposition they have experienced in the past to participation in various gay-pride events.

  10. says

    @ Dunc, No. 10…

    One does not have to believe that all members of the working class are the same in order to realise that many of their political interests are aligned, not does one have to think that all workers in a particular industry agree on everything to recognise the value of collective bargaining

    That’s true, you’re absolutely correct: one does not have to think that all workers in a particular industry agree on everything but they do have to agree on somethings and more than a century of labor history (at least in the United States) shows that when disagreements outweigh agreements, the consensus necessary for collective bargaining is difficult if not impossible .
    In my family individuals worked at two adjacent chemical factories—DuPont and Marbon—in the Mid-Ohio River Valley. The former was unionized and the latter was not. Why that was true is complex, but the fact remained that hundreds of members of the same community, living in the same neighborhoods with children in the same schools and worshiping in the same churches, chose different courses as to regards to their labor associations.
    Anyone who knew either my father or my maternal grandfather and made any assumptions about the chemical workers in those two plants based on either of those individuals would be in error. Only by careful immersion in both shops could understanding begin to form.

  11. says

    It appears the apparent disagreement comes from the fact that I interpreted your original statement to mean that all political movements that can be described as “identity politics” ignore individuality.

    All the other stuff you’re saying seems reasonable, so perhaps we have somehow miscommunicated on the original statement? Perhaps, even though the right wing (which is the predominant source of uses of the phrase “identity politics”) would clearly include 1980s and 90s queer activism within “identity politics”, you do not?

    I’m not sure of the source of our disagreement, but I am sure that the right wingers clearly label as IP some things that just as clearly work to dispel stereotypes and create greater appreciation for individual variation…which to my eyes seemed in clear conflict with your #1. Am I wrong?

  12. says

    @ Crip Dyke No. 13

    …I am sure that the right wingers clearly label as IP some things that just as clearly work to dispel stereotypes and create greater appreciation for individual variation…

    I agree with that 100 percent. : )
    They use the same tactic to denigrate what they term political correctness and I call basic human decency.

  13. says

    I call him Buttigentrifier. His first loyalties are to the wealthy, white people and maybe gay men -- but only because he benefits. He is the ideal wall street and 1%er candidate, easily malleable and willing to do what they want.

    Funny how the two best candidates for human rights and addressing the issues of young people, Black and People of Colour, and the future are old white people.

  14. Holms says

    As per usual, you are entirely unable to recognize actual points, much less address them accurately.

    The fact that individuals differ from group averages is hyphenman’s premise, not hyphenman’s point. hyphenman’s point was…

    Misinterpreted by you but not by me. Touchy today!

  15. Mookie says

    As Crip Dyke says above, “queer politics” is not synonymous with “gay candidate.” The vast majority of gay politicians in this country have never run on that kind of platform and have no extensive history in that kind of activism, though many contemporary ones owe their visibility to such activism casually dismissed as divisive and icky identity politics. The entire argument is a reactionary red herring, a re-branding of politically incorrect as pure and unsullied.

  16. Mookie says

    Also, you are pretty obviously confusing a yearning for representation with “identity politics.” LGBTQ voters flocking to the best candidate of two for expanding civil rights and protecting Americans against the creep of disingenuous Christian objections to gay and trans rights is a perfect, a really picture perfect, example of identity politics in action. Identity politics as a practice is not inherently objectionable in an unequal society, and identity politics are always in operation. It’s just that normally the benefit goes to preserving the privilege and power of those belonging to the unmarked categories.