You can kind of see why the Democrats want to appoint Keith Ellison as chair of the DNC this coming February. He ticks all the boxes. He’s an African-American Muslim. He has the support of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are adored by progressives and millennials who felt cheated by 2016. And he can be the Democrats’ “change candidate” they so desperately need. In a large degree, Keith Ellison is the new Barack Obama.
There’s only one problem — Keith Ellison is the new Barack Obama.
The Democrats desperately want a face to put up against the Trump administration that can visually counter the incoming Presidents’ anticipated policies of building a wall on the Mexican border and potentially banning (temporarily) Muslims from entering the country. Keith Ellison can be that face. For the left, he’ll be the embodiment of a Social Justice Warrior around whom all those disaffected millennials will gather. It doesn’t matter that illegal immigration and concern about Muslim terror attacks on U.S. soil are important and legitimate issues for Americans. The Democrats are still working from the identity politics playbook that, in part, got Barack Obama elected back in 2008.
Granted, it worked back then. The optics of having a young, well-educated, liberal, black Senator running for the presidency caused many Americans (white and black) to have a love affair with Obama that didn’t end even when it turned out President Obama didn’t offer much change at all. What they ended up with was a stagnant economy, a healthcare system with rising premiums, and a foreign policy that has betrayed its close friendship with Israel. Oh, and there was the apology tour where Obama jetted around the world apologizing for America.
But Obama did give the liberals one thing. Much to their satisfaction, Obama offered liberals the chance to feel good about themselves because they’d elected a black man to be the leader of the free world. And although it was politically, culturally, and emotionally necessary to see an elegant black family residing in the White House, the political strategy that put him there has come at a cost.
Identity politics is devoid of actual principle.
It doesn’t seem that the Democrats have learned that lesson. After all, they just lost a presidential election by putting up Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran her campaign partly on shattering the glass ceiling to become the first female President of the United States. And it didn’t work. Hillary was a deeply flawed candidate, but the Democrats hoped that identity politics would do for her what it did for Obama. But most Americans, including a lot of women, didn’t want to vote for Clinton simply because she was a woman.
Now it appears they want Keith Ellison to stake out the same territory as Obama did eight years ago. This time around, it will be interesting to see how much Ellison’s Muslim faith will play a part in his politics. On the Left, Muslims have become the newest oppressed group requiring their uncritical support, but that support won’t come at a cost, either. Already, LGBT Democrats are justifiably nervous about a party which only lately took up the cause of gay rights and now seems happy to abandon them for Muslims. It certainly seems more than a little strange that the Democrats will deplore the rights of Christians to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple while being perfectly fine with the anti-gay tenets of Islam.
For many Democrats, it’s not even about the religion, it’s about being a victim. And being a victimized group is more important than principle, even when the most “victimized” group is diametrically opposed to other marginalized groups. Inevitably, something’s gotta give. The Democrats increasingly seem to forget that principles are more inclusive than groups.
Keith Ellison, if appointed chair of the DNC, will have to navigate the increasingly muddy waters of the identity politics swamp. While embracing one group to champion their agenda might be laudable on its own terms, doing it at the expense of principles or the advancements of other groups is not a winning political strategy in the long run. Ultimately, you are going to alienate more people that you attract. After Donald Trump’s victory in the November election, the Democrats should be trying to win back those groups they abandoned — the working classes, Latinos, moderate Republicans, and yes, white men. These groups responded to the promise of jobs and national security, not identity politics. A political party who abandons these fundamentals abandons itself.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]