By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny
Albright: “Younger women, Hillary Clinton will always be there for you” … plus that other thing she said.
As I said, this has been apparent for some time. I’ve never seen it documented so well in one place, however, until this recent piece by Glenn Greenwald.
For example, Hillary Clinton supporters in 2016 not only encouraged a vote for Clinton because men and women had a duty to support her as a woman, yet they attacked support for Sanders as specifically misogynist:
The 2016 presidential election was the peak, at least thus far, for the tactics of identity politics in U.S. elections. In the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton’s potential status as the first female candidate was frequently used not only to inspire her supporters but also to shame and malign those who supported other candidates, particularly Bernie Sanders.
In February 2016 — at the height of the Clinton-Sanders battle — former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduced Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire rally by predicting a grim afterlife for female supporters of Sanders, while Clinton and Cory Booker cheered: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” she announced.
Though Albright apologized in the New York Times for her insensitive phrasing after a backlash ensued, she did reaffirm her central point: “When women are empowered to make decisions, society benefits. They will raise issues, pass bills and put money into projects that men might overlook or oppose.”
At roughly the same time, Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem said female supporters of Sanders were motivated by a primitive impulse to follow “the boys,” who, she claimed, were behind Sanders. Just this week, the Clinton loyalist and Salon writer Amanda Marcotte said Trump won “because some dudes had mommy issues,” then clarified that she was referring to left-wing misogynists who did not support Clinton: “I also have those moments where I’m like, ‘Maybe we need to run Bland White Guy 2020 to appease the fake socialists and jackass mansplainers.’”
Greenwald notes in passing that no one was making the case for supporting Sanders because he would be the first Jewish president, and he doesn’t expect that case to be made in 2020 should Sanders run again.
He concludes from this that “despite the inconsistencies, one of the dominant themes that emerged in Democratic Party discourse from the 2016 election is that it is critically important to support female candidates and candidates of color, and that a failure or refusal to support such candidates when they present a credible campaign is suggestive evidence of underlying bigotry.”
The Past as Prologue: Cynthia Nixon
Apparently, however, Democratic Party interest in electing strong progressive women (Hillary Clinton includes herself on that list) has dissipated in the smoke of the last election. As Greenwald notes, “Over and over, establishment Democrats and key party structures have united behind straight, white male candidates (including ones tainted by corruption), working to defeat their credible and progressive Democratic opponents who are women, LGBT people, and/or people of color. Clinton herself has led the way.”
The article is replete with examples, from the Brad Ashford–Kara Eastman battle in Nebraska, to the Bob Menendez–Michael Starr Hopkins–Lisa McCormick three-way contest in New Jersey, to the Ben Cardin–Chelsea Manning primary in Maryland. In all cases, the Party backed the white male candidate (or in Menendez’s case, the whiter male candidate) against the woman, the person of color, and the LGBTQ candidate. Not even the smoke of 2016’s identity fire remains.
Which brings us to the 2018 candidacies of Cynthia Nixon and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
Let’s start with Cynthia Nixon, running against corrupt, anti-progressive NY Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo sides with Republicans to defeat progressive measures, rules with an iron hand, is white and male. Yet he’s also supported and endorsed by almost every national Democrat who matters:
In New York state, Cynthia Nixon is attempting to become the first female governor, as well as the first openly LGBT governor, in the state’s history. She’s running against a dynastic politician-incumbent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom the New York Times denounced this year for being “tainted” by multiple corruption scandals.
But virtually the entire Democratic establishment has united behind the white male dynastic prince, Cuomo, over his female, LGBT challenger. That includes Clinton herself, who enthusiastically endorsed Cuomo last month, as well as Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who — despite starting a political action committee with the explicit purpose of supporting women running for office — also endorsed Cuomo over Nixon in March. [emphasis mine]
To make the main point again: How cynical and insincere is the Democratic Party’s support for identity politics? Very.
A Local Race with National Consequences: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vs. Joe Crowley
This cynical drama is also playing out in the race between corrupt Joe Crowley, the likely next Democratic leader of the House (if he survives this election) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The same dynamic is now driving the Democratic Party primary campaign in New York’s 14th Congressional District, a district that is composed of 70 percent nonwhite voters. The nine-term Democratic incumbent, Joe Crowley, is a classic dynastic machine politician. His challenger, a 28-year-old Latina woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has generated nationwide excitement for her campaign after her inspiring introduction video went viral. At a fundraising event, Crowley accused his opponent of playing identity politics, saying she was trying to make the campaign “about race.”
Despite all that, virtually the entire Democratic establishment has united behind the white male incumbent, and virtually none is supporting the woman of color who is challenging him. Yesterday, the very same Gillibrand who has a PAC to support female candidates and who endorsed Cuomo over Nixon announced that she was supporting Crowley over Ocasio-Cortez. [emphasis added]
Note that these are not low-profile, low-consequence races. Both are positions of enormous power — in Nixon’s case, due to the office; in Crowley’s case, due to his position as the Dauphin to Nancy Pelosi’s soon-to-step-down monarch.
These are races with exponentially greater consequences than usuals. And where is the Democratic Party in this? With the (corrupt) white male and against the woman, as always these days.
“Identity Politics” Is Not a Cookie-Cutter Solution to Electoral Choices
I’d like to make two additional points. First, by any intelligent standard, candidates “identities” should only be one factor only in considering support for them. Only the right wing and 2016 Clinton advocates like Madeleine Albright, quoted above, make the most simplistic argument about “identity” support — and even then, the simplistic argument seemed to apply only to support for Clinton herself and never to other women.
For example, would even Clinton supporters have supported Carly Fiorina against a male Democrat for president? Obviously not. And Clinton herself, a former New York senator, did not support Zephyr Teachout in 2014 when Teachout ran against Andrew Cuomo for governor. Nor did then-Democratic primary candidate Hillary Clinton campaign for Zephyr Teachout in her 2016 race for the the NY-19 House seat.
Ideological concerns also drive decisions like these, as in fact they should. Fiorina would likely be too far right for Clinton to support, and Teachout too far left. This is a fair basis on which to decide. It was also a fair basis on which to decide support for Clinton as well.
The Ocasio-Crowley Battle Is a Very High-Leverage Fight
A second point: I recently wrote about the importance of progressive involving themselves heavily in high-leverage races — like the Bernie Sanders 2016 race, for example — where the payoff would have been huge relative to the effort. (You can read that piece and its argument here: “Supporting Aggressive Progressives for Very High-Leverage Offices“.)
The Ocasio-Crowley contest is similarly high-leverage — first, because he’s perceived as vulnerable and acting like he agrees, and second because it would, to use a chess metaphor, eliminate one of the most powerful (and corrupt) anti-progressive players from House leadership in a single move.
Again, Crowley is widely seen as the next Democratic Speaker of the House. He would be worse by far than Nancy Pelosi, and he’s dangerous. He has blackmailed, as I see it, almost all of his colleagues into supporting him by the implicit threat of, as Speaker, denying them committee assignments and delaying or thwarting their legislation. He also controls funding as Speaker via the leadership PAC and the DCCC. Even Mark Pocan, co-chair of the CPC and normally a reliable progressive voice and vote, is reportedly whipping support for Crowley among his colleagues.
Crowley plays for keeps. Taking him off the board entirely, removing him from the House for the next two years, would produce a benefit to progressives far in excess of the effort involved.
Progressives, were they truly smart, would have nationalize this race from the beginning and worked tirelessly to win it. The payoff from a win like this is huge.