Elections

Progressive Democrats Renounce Their Former Selves

Sen. Cory Booker speaks with the media at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, June 1, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)
Not long ago, the current presidential contenders opposed open borders, sanctuary cities, and federal funding for abortion. Now they can’t move left far and fast enough.

All politicians are “flexible.” If they are in politics long enough, many reinvent themselves ideologically several times over — given the perceived volatile mood of 51 percent of their constituency.

But rarely have we seen an entire primary field of candidates scrambling to renounce all their past identities and agendas — and to do so unapologetically, abruptly, and vehemently.

Apparently, they believe, at least in the primary, that the electorate will either identify as nonwhite, or far left, or both — and thus resent deeply any who are not.

To win the nomination, almost all the leading candidates on the Democratic debate stage now believe that they must renounce almost everything they once stood for — at least for a while. Given that most are white or affluent or children of privilege, or all three, sometimes the metamorphosis becomes low comedy.

Their rational seems to be that 1) no one will remember what they once promoted anyway, 2) everyone will give them a pass when, if nominated, they run in the general election on some of what they just renounced in the primaries, and 3) they really believe that mass immigration and declining demography has made America a nonwhite nation, that some sort of DNA identification badge will allow all of us to find and belong to the right racial caste, and that our superficial identities will govern everything we do, say, and believe (as happened in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia).

Again, the results are often quite stunning, even for politicians.

Joe Biden carved out a political career as good “ole Joe,” the glad-handing Catholic working-class, “one of us” moderates. Joe once opposed busing and argued for tougher sentencing for drug users and dealers. He was fervent in his initial support of the Iraq War, fought against federally funded abortions, and bragged that post-surge Iraq could become one of Obama’s “greatest achievements.” He has also unfortunately made a number of racist gaffes, whose thematic frequency might suggest more than just momentary lapses.

Biden’s two prior presidential candidacies crashed, partly because of his plagiarism, past and present, partly owing to his shallowness and superficiality, and partly thanks to his perceived caution, which was out of touch in both 1988 and 2008, when he posed as a centrist alternative to both liberal Mike Dukakis and progressive Barack Obama.

That was the Joe of yesterday. Today’s Joe is consumed with stamping out white privilege. He does not just wish to rhetorically castigate Trump. Rather, he has riffed on more than one occasion that he wants to smack the president or take him behind the proverbial gym and beat him up — prompting all sorts of emulative scenarios from his rivals. Cory Booker, again in the role of Spartacus, would like to knock out Trump too, albeit only when his male hormones get the better of him, he says. Kamala Harris, when asked in 2018 if she’d rather be stuck in an elevator with President Trump, Mike Pence, or Jeff Sessions, answered, “Does one of us have to come out alive?”

Joe is now for the open borders that he used to oppose, and he wants to ban the coal and other fossil fuels that he used to promote when among his hometown-clinging Pennsylvanians. Joe’s apparent challenge is to swing even harder left than a hard-left field, then win over leftist primary voters, then scoot back to the center in the general election, then wink to his former leftist supporters that he is the only alternative to Donald Trump and that his primary not his general-election self is his real persona.

Young Kamala Harris as San Francisco City Attorney tried to square the circle of identity politics and establishment approval by creating a feminist, person-of-color crime-fighter façade. She prosecuted even minor drug offenders, filed charges against the parents of truants, increased bail, and was cited for withholding exonerating evidence from criminal defendants. Willie Brown, her paramour and married career mentor, had advised her well about the politics of flexibility.

In other words, Harris distinguished herself as a law-and-order unorthodox politician, who as a liberal still might appeal to Bay Area grandees and reassure them that their city was diverse, safe, and secure. Not now. Today she favors decriminalization, not tougher penalties, and sees criminal justice largely in terms of abusive law enforcement. Rival cameo candidate Tulsi Gabbard has made a small career out of exposing Harris’s hypocrisies as a prosecutor. Kamala, like Joe, is in some sense running against what she used to be.

Few sound as radical as Kirsten Gillibrand 3.0. She has promised to venture into the suburbs to lecture white women on their pernicious white privilege, which she knows all too well. And she loudly advocates the abolishment of ICE.

Yet Gillibrand was once a Manhattan tobacco lawyer who defended Philip Morris. As a Bill Clinton acolyte who welcomed her mentor’s political support and tutoring, she won New York congressional races in a Republican-dominated district by running on a pro-gun, balanced-budget, and secure-borders agenda. She also opposed sanctuary cities and driver’s licenses for illegal aliens. Such positions would prompt her old self to call her a white supremacist.

Gillibrand was also once a member of the now nearly defunct conservative “Blue Dog” Democratic House caucus, and the Left criticized her for taking campaign donations from tobacco giant Philip Morris (her former client). So the person Kirsten Gillibrand recently was has become the person Kirsten Gillibrand is currently damning.

Cory Booker, the child of affluence as the son of two IBM executives, now escorts illegal aliens across the border. He embraces most of the radical new progressive agenda, from the Green New Deal to Medicare for All, and often damns police “brutality” and tougher incarceration policies.

Yet pre-Spartacus, Booker once upon a time was reelected mayor of Newark on his Rudy Giuliani strategy of reducing crime, locking up repeat offenders, and reassuring the business community that he was a no-nonsense crime fighter — to the chagrin of gangs and inner-city politicos who charged him with being a traitor to his race but not to his class.

In extremis, Booker rediscovered his street credibility by inventing T-bone, a mythical gang-banger confidant who talked turkey with the versatile Cory, as Booker himself recalls:

I still remember my first month on the street. I walked up to this charismatic black guy my age called T-Bone, who was one of the drug lords. I just said, “Yo, man, wha’s up?” And he leaped in front of me, looked me right in the eye and said, “Who the f*** do you think you are? If you ever so much as look at me again, I’m going to put a cap in your ass.

Booker’s old brand was urban pragmatism as he ran against the hard-core identity-politics culture of Newark inner-city politics.

Elizabeth Warren is at least still consistent — with her latest incarnation. She promises to end ICE, sees racism as the fuel that drives America, wants free health care for everyone, demands student debt cancellation, and is more or less running on a Cataline agenda of radical redistribution, without saying the word “socialist.”

Like Joe Biden, who fabricated an upbringing like that of Welsh Labour-party politician Neal Kinnock, the son of coal miner, and Cory Booker’s pal T-bone, Warren also invented an identity as a Native American with “high cheek bones,” as she put it. In some sense, everything that Warren now shouts about follows the creation of her Native American identity and is antithetical to her pre-minority self who profited by flipping houses and identified as a free-market Republican.

Robert Francis O’Rourke was a child of privilege and wealth who was christened “Beto” by his politico father mostly to help his son one day appeal to the local Mexican-American-dominated electorate. As an erstwhile three-term congressman, O’Rourke was hardly known other than as a sort of liberal-moderate team player. He opposed Obama’s DAPA executive order, which would have legalized thousands of illegal aliens, and he supported the more centrist Representative Ryan is his failed bid to unseat Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Now Beto is far to the left of Pelosi and is mostly running on the notion that he is a Latino-in-spirt-and-name crusader who demands open borders, amnesty, and the end of ICE, as he declares that America was yesterday, today, and tomorrow racist.

Beto was also wise enough to remind us publicly that what he is now is antithetical to what he was as a young, cool, rich, privileged hipster. And unlike the transient falsities of Warren, Biden and Booker, Beto’s fake Latino identity has had lifelong legs, helping him defeat an incumbent Democratic Mexican-American congressman and somehow still branding him as an authentically inauthentic minority.

The list of those primary candidates who have created new political and ethnic or racial identities could be expanded, but note that those who have not reinvented themselves — a Bennet, Bullock, Delaney, or Hickenlooper — are either out of the race or shortly will be.

Again, why the reinventions? Lots of these politicians came of age in the 1990s, when Clinton’s liberal “centrism” was seen as the way to win elections — in contrast to the failures of unabashed liberals like Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, and one-term president Jimmy Carter. Those post-Reagan-era political atmospherics apparently no longer apply, even in the age of the crumbled blue wall.

And given that “collusion” and “obstruction” were always failed hoaxes, “white supremacy” and “white privilege” are now being rolled out as the next cycle of hysterics to abort the Trump presidency — a point seemingly echoed in a recently leaked New York Times town-hall transcript.

Making such charges of white racism stick apparently requires new radical identities from the always more outraged accusers — even to the extent of disowning the progressive Obama agenda as not progressive enough.

If Trump will relax, let his record speak for itself, and avoid cul-de-sac Twitter traps and warring retweets, the various multiple and faux personalities of his opponents and the many foolhardy agendas they embrace will more or less reelect him.

 

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NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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