The Side Effect of Identity Politics in the Democratic Primary

Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, April 16, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

You are just not going to believe how this week is progressing. A Yale professor contends Pete Buttigeig represents “heterosexuality without women”; the philosophies of identity politics and intersectionality leave a slew of Democratic candidates arguing that the process and media coverage is particularly unfair to them; the New York Times buries the lead about Hunter Biden’s international business-consulting work; PolitiFact closes the book on Democratic claims about Florida and Georgia’s 2018 elections, and . . . maybe we won’t ever hear testimony from Robert Muller?

The Knives Start Coming out in the Democratic Primary

There’s a lot going on in this Los Angeles Review of Books essay about Pete Buttigieg and his husband appearing on the cover of Time magazine, entitled “Heterosexuality Without Women.” It’s a dive into the image of gays and lesbians in American culture, what kind of visual cues imply heterosexuality in our society, and all the different ways that Buttigieg and Chasen Glezman are framed in the style of Norman Rockwell Americana.

The author, Greta LaFleur, is associate professor of American Studies at Yale University. She concludes:

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. . . it does seem interesting that as the potential of women candidates (Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams, and Elizabeth Warren most immediately) to secure the Democratic nomination seem to be waning, Pete and Chasten appear on the cover of Time. And perhaps this is heterosexuality at its immaterial and strategic best, a heterosexuality that could take back to the presidency for the Democrats: white, centrist, and without women.

(Note that it’s Stacey, not Stacy, and she hasn’t declared an intention to run for president yet. Poor Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, they’re so forgotten and ignored, they don’t even get mentioned in the list of forgotten and ignored candidates.)

This is the inevitable side effect of identity politics and intersectionality. Every candidate gets boiled down to those key signifiers and discussed as symbols, instead of being discussed as individuals. What’s more, those symbols are inherently in competition with each other; every accomplishment of one group must interpreted as a snub or defeat for another.

You don’t have to be Catholic to be pleased that John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, indicating that you didn’t have to be Protestant to grow up to be president. You don’t have to be African-American to take satisfaction in Barack Obama winning the presidency in 1960, a demonstration that an African-American child of an immigrant with an unusual name can rise all the way to the top. You can chortle with delight that the first immigrant First Lady in almost 200 years arrived alongside a president that so many insist is xenophobic. (Melania Trump is not quite the first; Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London.)

The problem with treating people as symbols of groups is that criticism of individuals is quickly and all too easily reimagined to be criticism of the group they symbolize. The Guardian asks whether Kirsten Gillibrand’s inability to “break through” is a result of sexismThe Independent fumes about the “sexist assumptions” shaping the coverage of Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris. Cory Booker supporters see the coverage of Buttigieg as the epitome of privilege.” Supporters of Julian Castro are chuckling that O’Rourke underperformed among Texas Latinos in the 2018 Democratic Senate primary, and predicted it will happen again. Defending Biden and Bernie Sanders, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky observes, “The same people who hyperventilate over racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, transphobia and xenophobia are comfortable whipping out the club of ageism.”

When Klobochar described herself with the anodyne phrase, “I’m a candidate for our times,” she felt the need to clarify, “It doesn’t mean you couldn’t be older and do the job. I’m not being ageist here.”

You can’t have a debate about who’s the best candidate if everybody’s walking on eggshells. Primaries are about selecting one candidate, and that process inherently involves drawing distinctions between them. Even the most positive campaign involves some element of “I have strengths the other candidates do not, thus you, the voter, should choose me.”

But we’ve never had a primary with A) so many candidates B) so many media outlets hungry for content, attention, and controversy C) so many readers, listeners, viewers, and voters incentivized to interpret every comment in the worst possible way and publicly take offense.

When Do the Business Ties of Hunter Biden Become Fair Game?

The New York Times headline declares, “Trump’s Demands for Investigations of Opponents Draw Intensifying Criticism.”

But way down in the thirteenth paragraph, there’s some actual news about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son:

In addition to his work in Ukraine for the energy company Burisma, Hunter Biden advised a Romanian businessman with ties to the United States, Gabriel Popoviciu, whose real estate dealings had come under investigation, according to people familiar with the arrangement, which has not been previously reported. The investigation, which came as the United States and its allies were pushing Romania to clamp down on corruption, led to Mr. Popoviciu’s conviction and a prison sentence.

In the deal alluded to by Mr. Trump in the Fox News interview on Sunday, Hunter Biden and a business partner, Devon Archer, were involved in a fund that reportedly pursued an investment from the Chinese government-owned Bank of China.

The fund was announced in late 2013 — days after Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew to China from Japan aboard Air Force Two with the vice president, who was in the midst of a diplomatic mission intended to calm rising tensions in the region.

A lawyer for Hunter Biden said he did not conduct any business related to the China investment fund on that trip, and was not an equity owner in the fund while his father was vice president. He later acquired a 10 percent interest in the entity that oversees the fund, but to date has not received any money from the arrangement, according to the lawyer.

Then again, maybe not everyone on Trump’s team will be eager to go after Biden’s son for working for Gabriel Popoviciu. You know who else went to bat for Popoviciu? Rudy Giuliani and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

But it’s not particularly reassuring to see the vice president’s son playing international business consultant to so many foreign entities who would love to know what the administration was really thinking, and who undoubtedly hoped the younger Biden could put in a good word with his father or other administration officials. If pushed about this, Democrats will probably bring up foreign governments publicly proclaiming the joys of staying in Trump’s hotels and argue that represents a much more glaring conflict of interest. Or the Kushner family offering brochures to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing declaring, “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.” Ah, for the good old days when embarrassing presidential relatives meant the likes of Billy Carter and Roger Clinton.

Is it too much to ask that a president’s family tree not branch off into various “consulting projects” involving wealthy people who need favors or help from the U.S. government?

PolitiFact: Oh, Hey, Those Florida and Georgia Elections Weren’t Stolen

PolitiFact takes a long, detailed look of the claim of Kamala Harris and other Democrats that “without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida.”

Their findings should be repeated and proclaimed far and wide. You probably already heard the basics – that Georgia began removing inactive voters from its rolls back in the 1990s, that the removal was for routine and legal reasons, like dying, moving away, conviction of felonies. That voter registration surged under then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, outpacing population growth, and Georgia had record turnout in 2018. If that’s supposed to represent an attempt at voter suppression, it was a miserable failure.

In Florida, PolitiFact declared, “we found no evidence that rejected ballots swayed the outcome of the election.” The Florida ballots that were declared invalid, “were either left blank, the voter chose more than one candidate, among other issues. We can’t know how many intended to vote for Gillum.”

ADDENDUM: Hey, remember when Robert De Niro was playing Mueller on Saturday Night Live as the ultimate fearless tough guy?

Those sketches look pretty ironic now. De Niro’s Muller told Ben Stiller’s Michael Cohen, “Listen to me, you little weasel . . . You broke the law and now we’re going to catch all you little [reference to Meet the Parents that sounds like the F-word], you got that?” Now Cohen is indeed going to jail, as is Paul Manafort, but beyond that . . .

After the Mueller report was released, most of us expected that we would see Mueller testify before Congress in the near future. Now. . . maybe not?

The special counsel’s team has conveyed the notion that Mueller does not want to appear political after staying behind the scenes for two years and not speaking as he conducted his investigation into President Donald Trump. One option is to have him testify behind closed doors. But the notion that Mueller would only answer questions in private has become a sticking point, according to a source, as Democrats believe the public needs to hear directly from the special counsel.

Rank-and-file Democrats made clear Tuesday they believe Mueller must testify publicly given the gravity of the investigation.

No public testimony from Mueller? Democrats are going to be more disappointed than Game of Thrones fans.

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