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I’ve often thought that I probably couldn’t be a Democrat even if I held liberal policy views. The reason: it’s just too much work. The number of identity-based tripwires you have to navigate on any given day virtually assures you’re going to blow off a limb at some point. As Glenn Reynolds notes in his new USA Today column, the consequences of that trend are now playing out in the intra-Democratic fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal:
Right before Obama’s trade bill cratered in the Senate last week, Obama complained that its chief Senate critic, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., didn’t understand the real world. [National Organization for Women President Terry] O’Neill then chalked Obama’s attitude up to sexism.
O’Neill told The Hill she took issue with Obama calling Warren by her first name during an interview with Yahoo News published May 9.
“Yes, I think it is sexist,” O’Neill said. “I think the president was trying to build up his own trustworthiness on this issue by convincing us that Sen. Warren’s concerns are not to be taken seriously. But he did it in a sexist way.”
O’Neill said Obama’s “clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
…The worst aspect of Obama’s presidency has been the willingness of some defenders to characterize any and all criticisms of his policy or style as racist. With Warren (despite her denials) revving up for a potential 2016 presidential campaign — and already with Hillary Clinton’s effort — we’re seeing a new line of argument: That any criticism of a female politician is sexist. Apparently, the only kind of politician you can criticize on the merits in America nowadays is a white male.
Let me make a prediction: as the Democratic Party becomes increasingly dependent on the “Coalition of the Ascendant” that twice propelled Barack Obama to power — a strategy that relies on increasingly appealing to women and racial minorities — it’s longstanding embrace of identity politics is going to make these kind of clashes far more common.
As with most pernicious developments in America, the leading indicator here is California. I’ll develop this argument more fully in a longish piece I’ve got coming out in National Review, but, as Bill notes below, there have been some real tensions in the race for the open Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer. When Kamala Harris jumped into the race earlier this year with a “shock and awe” strategy that involved rolling out tons of big league endorsements, California’s Hispanic Democrats — partially reflecting the fact that Latinos became California’s plurality population last year — took great offense at the fact that they were being marginalized in the race.
At the time, the leading Hispanic prospect was the former Mayor of Los Angeles, human petri dish Antonio Villaraigosa (he’s subsequently decided not to run). When a number of leading Democrats, including Governor Jerry Brown, suggested that Villaraigosa should step aside, the Hispanic bloc began complaining that they were being told to “wait their turn” behind the half-black, half-Tamil Indian Harris. Navigating identity politics, however, is bomb squad work, and they clearly cut the wrong wire.
“I love this theory of a conspiracy, an anointment,” Shawnda Westly, the state Democratic Party’s executive director, said Friday.
“From my vantage point, I’m looking at a statewide elected official who has a strong electoral record … who has a national donor network and who is the only declared candidate and who is announcing endorsements that she has received,” Westly said.
“That is not a conspiracy. That is called effective campaigning. But I guess we only call it that when a man does it.”
What do you do with that if you’re a Republican? You get yourself a nice recliner and some popcorn, that’s what.