Saagar Enjeti laments use of identity politics in 2020 Democratic race


Opinion by: Saagar Enjeti

One of the most satisfying things about the 2020 presidential campaign is watching the identity politics obsessed elite wing of the Democratic party have their hopes dashed before their very eyes with the dying campaigns of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and I’m sure Deval Patrick.

The New York Times, a work organization itself, couldn’t quite figure out exactly why black people weren’t voting based purely on racial identity lines like they would expect, so they sent a reporter to South Carolina and elsewhere to figure it out in a story titled: black voters to black candidates: representation is not enough.”

The Times interviewed two dozen black voters in Atlanta and across South Carolina where they found miraculously that black voters are just like everybody else, in that they vote for whichever candidate best represents their interests rather than somebody who just happens to look like them. The Times writes that “many articulated a particular disenchantment with the idea that racial representation equated to change, and that they should automatically back a candidate who looked like them.”

I was cracking up at this particular quote from a voter who told the Times, “If I had a Kamala Harris or a Cory Booker that sounded like Bernie Sanders of course I would choose them, because they’re closer to my lived experience. But the Kamala’s and the Corys aren’t discussing the issues he’s discussing.” This voter in particular expressed disappointment with Barack Obama saying “we heard social justice talk, but he protected Wall Street, not mainstreet. And that I’m not falling for that again.”

The Times also observed of younger voters in particular that they have “embraced the idea that supporting a candidate who is willing to upend unjust systems is more important than choosing one from their community.” That in a sentence is the story of black voters in 2020, evangelical voters in 2016, and many more communities in an increasingly class divided world. The reason so many people in the media can’t understand that is because they belong to the elite class where everything is working out for them.

Poll after poll reveals to us that the people most likely to view politics through the frame of racial politics are not people of color themselves, but upper middle class white people who have passed through the elite university system. These are the people who populate our newsrooms, populate the professional managerial class, and have far too much of an impact on our contemporary political discourse and these are exactly the people who pushed the idea that a Deval Patrick, Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker was really what black voters want or need.

This is dangerous for everybody. Not only does it push a false racial politics narrative that people of color in this country don’t even want, but it allows for excuse making by bad politicians. Like this from Kamala Harris a few weeks ago when she blamed race and gender for why she is failing in the Democratic primary. Let’s take a listen:

Kamala Harris: Essentially is America ready for a woman and a woman of color to be President of the United States.
Axios Reporter: America was ready for a black man to be President of the United States. Kamala Harris: And this conversation happened for him. There is a lack of ability or difficulty in imagining that someone we have never seen can do a job that has been done 45 times by someone who is not that person.

This type of excuse making blames voters for accurately seeing that Kamala Harris is not offering either an electable case to the American public like Joe Biden, or a transformational case for change like Bernie Sanders and to some extent, Elizabeth Warren.

The polling results of today and the life support candidacies of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are a great corrective to the identity politics obsessed political class that wonders how an AOC could endorse Bernie Sanders, how older black voters could support Joe Biden, or how younger black women could support an Elizabeth Warren. As the media found out in 2016, people vote for somebody who will best advocate for their interests. It just turns out that most people don’t view their interests in purely racial terms

And in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious democracy like ours, that is a profoundly comforting and optimistic development.

Featured clips