The Morning Jolt


The Democrats and Identity Politics in 2020

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg waves after delivering remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

If you weren’t able to make it to the National Review Institute Ideas Summit — boy, are you missing out. But you can catch Rich Lowry’s interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The appeal of identity politics threatens to turn the 2020 Democratic presidential primary into a demolition derby of grievances; Illinois prosecutors declare to the public that the Jussie Smollett deal is nothing like standard operating procedure and they find it fishy, too; and a new edition of the pop-culture podcast.

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Party Will Be a Demolition Derby of Identity Politics

Over at Slate, Christina Cauterucci writes a column with the headline, “Is Pete Buttigieg Just Another White Male Candidate, or Does His Gayness Count as Diversity?

Identity politics, as demonstrated by the need to shoehorn Buttigieg into one of those two boxes, hooks people in by catering to two psychological temptations. The first is laziness. Up until a little while ago, I didn’t know much about Pete Buttigieg. To put together the ‘Twenty Things’ piece, I had to go out and buy and read his autobiography, read the profile pieces of him and interviews and coverage of his decisions as mayor, watch his television appearances, and so on. Getting to know a political figure, particularly a relatively new one, takes time and effort. When you digest it all, you may come up with a complicated or conflicting impression — on the plus side, Buttigeig’s bright, chose to serve his country in uniform, and after he had built a resume that could have gotten him a job just about anywhere, he set out to help revive his hometown. On the negative side, he’s wildly ambitious even by the standards of politicians, it’s fair to wonder just how much he’s actually improved life in his hometown, and he’s considerably more liberal in his stances than most coverage would suggest.

But if you embrace identity politics, you can draw a quick conclusion about a candidate just by looking at him or learning the name of his spouse. You can dismiss him as “a run-of-the-mill white-male candidate,” or you can be cheered by his status as a gay man, even if you lament Buttigieg’s “assimilationist perspective” and that he’s “less exciting as the supposed gay trailblazer some on the left desperately want him to be,” as the Slate piece does.

Who cares about what Buttigeig actually thinks about policy — like his belief that Mike Bloomberg’s large-soda-ban “came from this pragmatist, business-oriented mayor who was following the facts and realized there is a pretty high social cost to obesity” — when you can instantly declare he’s either a trailblazer or “not enough of a trailblazer”?

The other psychological temptation that identity politics caters to is grievance. Cauterucci notes that writer Jill Filipovic was irritated that a correspondent gushed about Buttigieg’s intelligence but didn’t do the same for Elizabeth Warren or Cory Booker. Mark Harris fumed that Buttigieg was being characterized as a “typical white guy the media always falls for,” which didn’t recognize him being gay.

Gripe, gripe, gripe. Complain, complain, complain. Everybody’s on high alert for anything that could be construed as a snub or some subtle indicator of less respect than someone else. Everybody’s on a hair trigger to call someone out for how their compliment to one person demonstrated their unconscious bias against another person. Every off-the-cuff statement suddenly becomes a symbol of historical injustice. Filipovic didn’t merely say, “Hey, Warren is smart too”; she said, “We recognize and applaud brilliance and intelligence in white men, and are less likely to identify it in women and people of color.” With merely a tweet calling Buttigieg smart, some tax-policy wonk had allegedly perpetuated systemic sexism and racism.

Who in their right mind wants to have a conversation in a hypersensitive and accusatory environment like this? And if you can’t have a conversation, how do you have a debate?

How in the world do you manage a presidential primary — where the whole point is for a candidate to draw distinctions with the rest of the field, to emphasize that whatever good qualities their rivals may have, he is the best choice — in an environment where every statement must be scanned with a mass spectrometer to detect any residual trace of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, unconscious bias, microaggression, or other cause for offense?

The irony is that in a party obsessed with identity politics, identity-based criticism is likely to be the most effective. Sure, the first debate will be mostly polite. But at some point, push is going to come to shove, and candidates will feel the need to draw distinctions and attack the frontrunners. Warren’s claim to Native American heritage and past status as a “woman of color” at Harvard will be too tempting a target to resist. (Cultural appropriation! ) A candidate who wanted to eat away at Harris’s support might raise the nepotism charge and her early career help from Willie Brown. (Sexism!) Someone will reasonably ask whether Democrats are comfortable with Bernie Sanders being 79 years old on Inauguration Day 2021. (Ageism!) Beto O’Rourke is already trying to navigate these waters, and he’s already faced the criticism that his road trip “drips with white male privilege.”

And in an environment like this, how long until Joe Biden’s mouth gets him in trouble? One of Stacey Abrams’s advisors is already calling Biden “exploitative” and “entitled” because he didn’t back her in the 2018 primary.

(More than a few have noticed that despite all the focus on identity politics, the three leading candidates in the early polling are Biden, Sanders, and in some polls, O’Rourke, and they’re collectively getting about 60 percent of the vote. The arguments of identity politics may be more potent in the Democratic party’s chattering class and media circles than with primary voters as a whole. Or maybe Biden and Sanders are just well ahead because they’re the best-known right now.)

You think the 2016 Democratic primary fight between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders got rough? The 2020 primary is going to look like Mad Max’s “Fury Road.” The great irony is that this long process may eventually undermine the power of identity politics, as the surviving Democratic nominee will probably have been accused of racism, sexism, etcetera in the process of winning the primary.

Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association: Hey, We Don’t Make Deals Like the One with Smollett

Thank you, Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association. It’s refreshing to see a professional association that, when confronted with highly unusual, controversial, and possibly unethical behavior by one of its members, didn’t choose to close ranks and protect “one of their own.” Instead, the IPBA laid down a clear marker of what behavior is normal and standard.

The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association serves as the voice for nearly 1,000 front-line prosecutors across the state who work tirelessly towards the pursuit of justice. The events of the past few days regarding the Cook County State’s Attorney’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case is not condoned by the IPBA, nor is it representative of the honest, ethical work prosecutors provide to the citizens of the state of Illinois on a daily basis.

The manner in which this case was dismissed was abnormal and unfamiliar to those who practice law in criminal courthouses across the State. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges alike do not recognize the arrangement Mr. Smollett received. Even more problematic, the state’s attorney and her representatives have fundamentally misled the public on the law and circumstances surrounding the dismissal.

There’s something delightful about the way they methodically and systematically refute the claims of State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx and her office:

When an elected State’s Attorney recuses herself from a prosecution, Illinois law provides that the court shall appoint a special prosecutor.  See 55 ILCS 5/3-9008(a-15).  Typically, the special prosecutor is a neighboring State’s Attorney, the Attorney General, or the State Appellate Prosecutor.  Here, the State’s Attorney kept the case within her office and thus never actually recused herself as a matter of law.

Additionally, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office falsely informed the public that the uncontested sealing of the criminal court case was “mandatory” under Illinois law.  This statement is not accurate.  To the extent the case was even eligible for an immediate seal, that action was discretionary, not mandatory, and only upon the proper filing of a petition to seal.  See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(g)(2).  For seals not subject to Section 5.2(g)(2), the process employed in this case by the State’s Attorney effectively denied law enforcement agencies of legally required Notice (See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(d)(4)) and the legal opportunity to object to the sealing of the file (See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(d)(5)).  The State’s Attorney not only declined to fight the sealing of this case in court, but then provided false information to the public regarding it.

The appearance of impropriety here is compounded by the fact that this case was not on the regularly scheduled court call, the public had no reasonable notice or opportunity to view these proceedings, and the dismissal was done abruptly at what has been called an “emergency” hearing.  To date, the nature of the purported emergency has not been publicly disclosed. The sealing of a court case immediately following a hearing where there was no reasonable notice or opportunity for the public to attend is a matter of grave public concern and undermines the very foundation of our public court system.

Whatever motivated Foxx to make this deal, I hope it was worth it to her, because this controversy isn’t going away anytime soon.

ADDENDUM: Another edition of the pop-culture podcast has dropped, starting with a little bit of current events with Smollett, the Mueller report, and Michael Avenatti’s woes, and moving on to Netflix’s bad habit of taking a good idea for a six-episode series and turning it into a ten-episode series, “true crime” conventions, and healing power of Chick-fil-A. As Mickey and I put it, “Pace yourself, 2019. Don’t use up all your craziness in the first three months.”


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