Late last week, the Democratic Party's far-left base gathered in New Orleans for the annual 'Netroots Nation' conference. A number of rumored presidential aspirants were in attendance, including Senators Cory "complicit in evil" Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. I'll circle back to Warren, but let's begin with a notable commentary offered by the junior Senator from California. During her remarks from the dais, Sen. Harris took aim at the term "identity politics," ripping it as a formulation designed to divide and silence:
The phrase "identity politics" has been used to minimize and marginalize issues that impact us all. No more. We won't be silent. pic.twitter.com/8CQsLJH3Uz— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 4, 2018
To further emphasize her theme, Harris fired off a number of subsequent tweets vowing not to be silent on various issues:
We won’t be silent about immigrant rights.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 4, 2018
We won’t be silent about women's rights.
We won’t be silent about equal justice under the law.
These issues that they’re trying to diminish or demean — these are the very things that define our identity as Americans.
We won’t be silent about race. We won’t be silent about sexual orientation. We won’t be silent about immigrants rights. These are the very issues that define our identity as Americans.https://t.co/KBRJ5aGYlr— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 4, 2018
Let's set aside the reality that nobody can seriously claim the Left is being silent about much of anything these days, let alone the topics she invokes. What strikes me as interesting is not just her apparent effort to "problematic-ize" the term 'identity politics' itself, but also her profound twisting of the concept. In a monologue on my radio show this week, I picked apart her inverted definition, explaining why her paean to intersectionality is a demagogic distortion of reality. My main points:
(1) Conservatives' problem with the Left's regime of identity enforcement stems from the cynical sorting of human beings into little ideologically-determinative boxes, based on immutable characteristics such as race, sex, sexuality, etc. We shouldn't take issue with substantive debates that include serious questions and data about how policies impact certain populations. We also shouldn't begrudge members of certain identity groups weighing their collective well-being as they consider various political proposals and candidates. But we should roundly reject the insistence that individuals ought to think or vote a certain way based on their assigned identity groups.
(2) The other major objection to identity politics -- as outlined at length in my book -- is the lazy smears that frequently accompany disagreement with the Left's agenda. If you're for voter ID laws, you're racist. If you're pro-life you're sexist. If you're for religious liberty, you're homophobic. If you aren't sure whether this is fair, you're transphobic. If you raise issues like this or this, you're Islamophobic. And if you prefer tighter immigration restrictions, you're a nativist or xenophobe. These are rhetorical attacks used to short-circuit actual debate. Yes, real bigotry does exist, but tarring large groups of voters by impugning their motives is standard operating procedure in our politics today. It's toxic.
In essence, Harris' complaints feel like projection. It's the Left that too often exploits identity to "divide and distract" from substance, or to deflect from or disqualify good-faith disagreement. And it's the Left that too often seizes on identity politics as a cudgel with which to attack ideological opponents and bully them into silence. Sen. Harris and friends are more than welcome to speak out on whatever issues they see fit; they are not welcome to use identity-rooted grievances and scorecards to stifle serious discussion or to demand conformity. Here's the audio of my radio segment advancing these arguments in detail:
AUDIO: Here's my monologue responding to Kamala Harris' riff on "identity politics" and silencing. She gets it exactly backwards...https://t.co/MHFq3DuMIr— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 7, 2018
Seemingly determined to reinforce my point, Sen. Warren also made a number of fiery statements in New Orleans, playing to various constituencies as she reportedly reconsiders her decision not to seek the presidency. (What may have changed her mind? Two words, she says: "Donald Trump"). In assailing the politics of division -- a topic on which she's quite familiar -- she rattled off the typical list of 'isms' and 'phobias:'
"According to Trump, the problem is other working people - people who are black or brown, people who are born somewhere else, people who don’t worship the same, talk the same, or dress the same as Trump and his buddies. And it comes in all sorts of flavors - racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. It comes in all sorts of forms - nasty personal attacks, trolling on Twitter, winking at white supremacists," Warren [said].
She later declared the entire US criminal justice system -- all of it -- to be "racist:"
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday called the criminal justice system “racist … front to back,” while further hinting at a potential presidential run. “Let’s just start with the hard truth about our criminal justice system,” Warren said at a forum at Dillard University in New Orleans. “It’s racist … I mean all the way. I mean front to back.”
Even if you favor criminal justice reform, as I do, this is dreadful, broad-brush demagoguery and demonization that slanders countless Americans who work within the current system. This type of comment is harmful no matter who is spouting it, but it's uniquely galling coming from a woman who built and advanced her career upon a shameless racial fraud. When it comes to "privilege checking" and "cultural appropriation," hot concepts within the realm of obsessive identity politics, Warren is an egregious violator on both fronts. It will be interesting to see what Harris and others may have to say about that if and when they find themselves competing with Warren for their party's presidential nomination.