Republican Identity Politics

One of the many baffling things about modern Republicans is that they claim to hate “identity politics” even when “identity politics” seems to be the only game they know how to play.

For example, in today’s New York Times we read that Carly Fiorina has emerged as the Republican answer to charges they are waging a “war on women.” And that’s because … she’s a woman? I’m guessing.

I actually went to Fiorina’s campaign website to find out where she stands on women’s issues. Um, she doesn’t say. Taxes? Health care? Social Security? Nope. She brags about all the good things she did for Hewlitt Packard and tells us she’s a problem solver.

I had to google for more. Here’s what I learned — she wants to shut down the government to force defunding of Planned Parenthood. She also wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned. She pays lip service to “equal pay for equal work,” but she blames the pay gap on unions and government bureaucracies.

She’s fighting for the patriarchy, in other words. But she’s supposed to be proof that there’s no war on women because of her identity.

(There are no policy proposals on Donald Trump’s website, either, but the campaign store is open. Get your Trump for President T-shirts now!
For the record, there are some detailed policy proposals on Hillary Clinton’s website, but you have to doggedly fight through several layers of appeals for donations to get to them. I’ll have you the trouble and link to one of her issues pages. Jeb! has some serious policy stuff on his website, but it’s not organized in any coherent way. All I learned from Scott Walker’s website is that he has adopted “Reform. Growth. Safety.” as his campaign slogan. He might as well add “Yawn.”)

And then there’s Dr. Ben Carson, who has surged to the second spot after The Donald in some polls. WTF, you say?  I continue to stumble into the opinion that Carson can attract at least enough of the “black vote” to win. Frank Rich wrote,

Simply put: If an African-American raises his hand to run for president as a Republican, he (they’ve all been men) will instantly be cheered on as a serious contender by conservative grandees, few or no questions asked. He is guaranteed editorials like the one in the Journal, accolades from powerful talk-show hosts (Carson would make “a superb president,” says Mark Levin), and credulous profiles like the one Fred Barnes contributed to The Weekly Standard last month. Barnes’s piece regurgitated spin from Carson’s political circle, typified by his neophyte campaign chief Terry Giles, a criminal litigator whose clients have included Richard Pryor, Enron’s Kenneth Lay, and an estate-seeking son of Anna Nicole Smith’s elderly final husband. “If nominated, can Carson beat Hillary Clinton or another Democrat?” Barnes asked—and then answered the question himself: “Yes, he can.” How? By winning 17 percent of the black vote in swing states—a theoretical percentage offered by a co-founder of the Draft Carson movement.

In other words, Carson is being taken seriously primarily because of his race. His stands on issues are boilerplate wingnut; he’s not offering anything original or detailed. He has no prior experience in elected office. Were he not black, we wouldn’t be hearing about him now.

Could Carson attract that 17 percent of the black vote? Note that Carson blames the unrest in Ferguson and elsewhere on a loss of values in the black community. Carson said that African Americans needed to return to “family and faith,” which were “the values and principles that got black people through slavery and segregation and Jim Crowism.”

African Americans didn’t elect me to speak for them, but I sense they’re not in the mood to just “get through” things these days. But considering that many Republicans still believe President Obama got into the White House only because he is black, it shouldn’t surprise us that they think any black candidate ought to be able to do the same.

Marco Rubio was once touted as the candidate who could bring Latino voters back to the GOP. I don’t think anyone is saying that now. Jeb Bush actually is ahead of Rubio among Cuban Americans. Unfortunately for Rubio, in order to remain a Republican candidate in good standing he has to be against immigration reform.

At one point in time Rubio, who’s own family’s story begins with illegal immigration and avoided deportation, championed the idea of a “pathway to citizenship”. His party, on the other hand, did not. As a result, he abandoned his heritage, he abandoned the cause, and came out against his own legislation. What’s even worse, he began to speak publicly against immigrants and activist groups such as the Dreamers; the very groups he once fought for. Why? Because his political aspirations meant more to him than actually doing something with the power he had in office to forge the same path that had been allotted him by his grandfather becoming a citizen.

Rubio’s stumping in Iowa and across the nation almost entirely in Spanish is, quite frankly, a slap in the face to the intelligence of Latino Americans. The GOP’s hope is that he will beguile voters with the “we’re so alike” rhetoric and shared stories of heritage that they will not notice that his platform is set against their best interests. Rubio’s hope is that his story and promises of working with white people to gain their trust so real immigration work can begin will buy him his seat on the 2016 ticket and ultimately begin his road to the presidency or vice-presidency. Will he ever revisit immigration in a meaningful way? It’s doubtful. The GOP is staunchly against real immigration reform. And Rubio is now in lock step with the party line.

Vote for me because I’m Latino!

Jeb! is promising immigration reform, which may be why he’s slightly ahead of Rubio among Cuban Americans. But that’s also a big reason he’s not catching fire with the white male base.

And of course the foundation of all Republican identity politics is the assumption that white maleness is the default norm. In the minds of the base, to speak about policies that are intended to benefit any demographic other than white male is “identity politics.” But they don’t grasp that “white male” is an identity too.

More than just philosophical contempt, the GOP has staked out a position that to talk about policies from the standpoint of how they impact the lives of women, people of color or LGBTQ people is cynical pandering rather than an essential way to understand the impact of policies that matter to real people’s lives.

In other words, what appeals to White Men is good for America. Addressing to any other group or class is just pandering.

On the other hand, young white men, especially urban ones, don’t always seem to get the program. Remember “Hipster Guy“? The Hipster drove around in an Audi spouting empty rhetoric about people needing jobs, and “I’m a Republican because my friends need a paycheck, not an empty promise.” It was embarrassing, for the GOP. Hilarious for the rest of us.

But my point is that Republicans seem to have reached the point that identity politics is about all they’ve got. So we’ve got the rich belligerent dude with no policy proposals leading the pack.

Share Button