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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Democrats Republicans: Race and Identity Politics

A couple evenings back on the Factor, Tammy Bruce made an interesting if not highly partisan observation. She said that the Democrat's identity politics, which she said has been happening for over forty years, is now going to haunt them. I believe the fact that the fact that 80% of Americans think we are on the wrong track, a long protracted war, and a struggling economy, is masking a lot of huge and bubbling problems for the Dems because the Reps have even bigger problems.

That said, the identity politics that we are seeing is worth examining. The Republican party is split into several distinct groups: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, national security hawks (currently called neoconservatives), and illegal immigration hawks. Of course, many in the base of the party fall into more than one category at a time, and usually into all four. The point is that the party is made up of a base based in ideology.

The Democratic Party's base is comprised not of ideology but of race, social class, and occupation. The base of the Democratic party includes: African Americans, Unions, Hispanics and to some extent feminists.

Thus, while the Republicans are identified based on a set of principles, the Democrats are identified based on a number of races and classes. Now, this may not ever have been a problem had the two main Democratic candidates for President not been a woman and an African American. Since they are, identity politics have been unleashed.

Let's just compare the two parties for a minute. Throughout the entire Republican campaign, here is what we witnessed. Everyone debated how Rudy would reconcile with the social conservatives. Everyone debated how McCain would reconcile with the illegal immigration hawks. We wondered if Romney had enough foreign policy experience to satisfy the war hawks, and we wondered if Huckabee's record would provide a problem for fiscal conservatives. We all wondered why Fred Thompson wasn't doing better since he satisfied every group.

What do we hear on the Democratic side? Will Obama be able to attract the white working class voters? Will African Americans revolt if Hillary is elected the Democratic nominee? This editorial is a microcosm of the difference between the two parties.

For many conservatives, John McCain is not their favorite Republican. They think he's built a career at their expense, painting them as fools and bigots. They resent his holier-than-thou attitude. And they're not inclined to trust anyone who has been so fawned over by the national media.

Curiously, a lot of liberal Democrats feel the same way about McCain. He isn't their favorite Republican either -- but it's because they know he'll be tough to beat in November. They would have preferred to run against someone more extreme andeasier to demonize. That's not John McCain.

I first met McCain 10 years ago when I was a working at The Arizona Republic. What I remember is that, in a political climate where so many elected officials -- Republican and Democrat alike -- were wearing themselves out pandering to racists who demanded action on illegal immigration, McCain was one of the few who didn't play that game. In 1998, while Texas Gov. George W. Bush made headlines for earning an impressive 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his re-election, McCain walked off with an unheard-of 65 percent in his Senate re-election bid. Six years later, he did even better, earning around 70 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Most political observers don't expect McCain to match those numbers in a national election, but half of that -- 35 percent -- is a definite possibility. With that kind of support among Hispanics, McCain could win the White House.

Unwittingly, this columnist reveals the schism between the two parties. The folks that the columnists refers to as racists are actually one of the bases of the Republican party. Those are folks that demand that immigration laws be enforced, and that we put an end to the scourge of illegal immigration. These are the folks that McCain will have the most trouble with in November. What you can't put them into is some sort of an ethnic or racial box.

The Democrats find themselves on the other side of the issue, and they support a largely open borders policy. Their base, as a result, is of course Hispanics. Nearly every policy can be traced back to one of their ethnic or class bases. They are suddenly protectionists on free trade to appease the unions. Their pro choice stance appeases feminists. The list goes on and on.

Is it any wonder that everything has turned to race and class for the Democrats? Here is what Hilary Clinton said recently.

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
John McCain would never have to frame the issue in such a racial way. That's because his base transcends race and is purely ideological. He will try and coalesce together fiscal conservatives, war hawks, and try and bring enough independents along to victory.

What is Barack Obama's base? It is African Americans, young people and so called limousine liberals. Only the so called limousine liberals could ever be identified based on ideology. The majority of his base is identified by age or skin color. Such a base is almost always political suicide. (just ask George McGovern)

The closest Republicans come is the social conservatives which is most identified with so called Christian Conservatives or Evangelicals. While they make up a large majority of the base of social conservatives, they are in no way the majority of it.

The problem for Democrats is that elections are based on ideas not identities. McCain will put forward his small government, free trade, socially conservative, and aggressive foreign policy positions and if it works it will appeal to the base of the party and just enough independents.

For the Dem nominee, it will be a totally different task. How do you put together a policy approach that appeals to Hispanics, African Americans, Unions and feminists all at once.? That's what the Reverend Wright issue revealed. Had something like this happened to a Rep, it would have ended their campaign right there. That's because a large portion of each part of the base would be totally turned off. For Obama, he merely turned off everyone but African Americans. It turns out that is just enough to win the nomination. It won't be enough to win in November. The Democrats have likely selected a deeply flawed candidate because their base is structured in such an absurd way.

That will be the competing story lines as we head into November. John McCain will be trying to make amends with the immigration hawks and the social conservatives (for CFR and other violations), while Obama will be trying to make amends with working whites , Hispanics, Unions and every other group that was offended by Wright. Now, if we didn't have 80% wrong track, a long unpopular war, and a struggling economy, the schism the Democrats have created would be an electoral disaster. In fact, it still might. Despite all the natural tendencies, the Democrats maybe headed for another Presidential defeat in November. If they do, they might try and reexamine the identity politics their party has created.

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