COMMENTARY: Identity politics are pervasive once more in Dem. primary
With the Democratic primary field already consisting of 14 candidates — and more almost certain to join — it is clear that this primary race will be far different in character than the 2016 Democratic primary, which saw an anointed party favorite carry the competition from beginning to end.
But, the one aspect of this election cycle’s primary that so far mirrors its predecessor is the reliance on identity politics as a method to court favor with a liberal base starving for more female and minority representation after a historic 2018 midterm made the 116th Congress the most diverse — albeit still heavily white male — in history.
While good meaning in nature, the continued perpetuation of identity as a primary means of conducting outreach to disproportionately represented groups is short-sighted in nature, both politically and in sparking the social change it purports to achieve.
So far this primary cycle, the candidacy of such prominent Democratic female lawmakers like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have provoked an excitement about the possibility of a woman headlining a victorious major party presidential ticket for the first time in our nation's history. But even for many of the men running, the question of a female being on the Democratic ticket regardless is seemingly a foregone conclusion already.
Notable contenders such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Beto O’Rourke have already signaled the high probability of choosing a female running mate if they were to win the nomination, with other high-profile names like former Vice President Joe Biden mulling the potential of entering the primary field with Stacey Abrams already tapped as his choice for vice president.
Although The New York Times wrote that the stance taken by figures like Booker and O’Rourke illustrates how “they are not taking female voters for granted,” I fear that this pervasive attitude serves to commodify identity as a means of prevailing politically, without any regard for the individual abilities of a potential vice presidential nominee, no matter what gender or race they may be.
Though I am all for taking into consideration a person’s race or gender to promote an elected government which represents the diversity of its people, I do not believe in diversity for diversity’s sake. It would be impractical to ignore identity when making such a decision like that of a vice presidential nominee much like it is immoral to allow someone’s race, religion, sexuality or ethnic background to overshadow their individual abilities and characteristics. It must be understood that there is a middle ground between outright ignoring identity and romanticizing it, which is a nuance that has been absent so far from the Democratic primary fight.
Certainly, for a nation founded on the rights of the individual, there is nothing more antithetical to core American values than to reduce people to the sum of their appearance. Liberals have long decried the treatment of transgressions committed by minority individuals as not representative of the entire group — and rightfully so — but such an idea is born out of the treatment of identity as an end in and of itself. Surely a truly representative government reaches deeper than just pure appearances, matching the ideas and wishes of its constituents instead of just matching their complexion.
Nonetheless, the pervasiveness of identity politics within the Democratic primary race will continue because it is born out of the lens of political correctness. For many on the Left, the symbolism of a female president serves to represent a changing tide in American life where gender equality is more real than ever. Yet, the pitfall of political correctness as a means of social reform is in its purely aesthetic nature and self-serving appeal.
While a woman or minority president may make many white liberals happy, it does little to address the deep-seeded systemic inequalities that are prevalent in American society and government. The support of any individual candidate due to factors stemming from their identity does little to promote the true goals of social justice, and instead only gives off the outward appearance that social progress is being achieved.
Progress cannot be artificially manifested, but rather must be nurtured and allowed to grow organically. Though many in this country so badly want to see a female president, the true mark of progress will be when a woman’s identity no longer serves as a central component to her appeal or disapproval.
The current Democratic field boasts multiple women who are well-qualified to take on the office, which is a detail that must not be forgotten. In fact, it should be celebrated throughout this process. Such a strict focus on results fails to take into account the great strides that have been made as a result of protest movements concerning women’s suffrage, rights and all-around social empowerment, all while perpetuating a distinctive treatment of women compared to their male counterparts in the process.
Hunter Maenner is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in criminal justice and political science.
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