'The Left’s Priority Is Identity Politics, Not Labor,' Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Several readers are agreeing with reader Gary, who made a pitch for the Green Party by arguing that the two major political parties are grossly inadequate, especially when it comes to the working class and organized labor. Here’s James with a quick nod:

Even though I’m gay, I have come to feel identity politics have become camouflage for the Democratic party’s sellout of the poor, organized labor, and the middle class. So yes, cover the Greens and other real left-oriented movements.

Another reader, Oliver, wants to “voice my strong agreement with Gary’s words”—and does so with many bulleted points:

  • The Democratic Party’s driving concern in 2016 is identity politics. This is unfortunate given how dire Americans’ bread-and-butter suffering has become since the Great Recession. For those who claim the party can and must do both, history shows that the two inevitably undermine one other.  Either we come together as workers or we move apart as identity groups.
  • Both Sanders and Trump have at least recognized the problem, but both candidates are flawed in the ways described by Gary and in some additional ones as well. With Trump, for instance, there’s a basic credibility gap as well as a philosophical problem. He has said many things which suggest he cares about regular Americans, but whether he means them or not is anyone’s guess.
  • Hillary Clinton is at this point completely unacceptable on bread-and-butter issues. She presided over the approach to government that led us to this point, all the while taking rich folks’ money for professional and personal gain.
  • The conflation of opposition to immigration and racism is wrong, unfair, and tragic given that American citizens need assistance now more than ever. For those who still believe illegal immigration is harmless or that free trade benefits U.S. workers, I struggle to see how they justify these positions other than by admitting that they are more concerned with the welfare of foreign workers than U.S. workers. That’s a defensible position, for sure, but not one on which you can win any kind of office in the United States.
  • For all these reasons—and in addition the reality that there is currently no party in America which takes bread-and-butter issues seriously—you should consider covering the Green Party more.  I’m not sure if the Green Party is the way to go, but Gary’s premise that you should be looking to represent more serious voices in this area is 100% spot-on.

Jon, on the other hand, is much more sure than Oliver that the Green Party isn’t the way to go:

While I certainly understand the frustration of having to express one’s political views through only one of two choices [Democrats or Republicans], especially when those views are nuanced and well considered, I don’t really see how increasing that number to three or four choices really improves on that when there are hundreds of very important and very controversial issues that voters vote on. This may lead some to suggest direct democracy. But both this and the evergreen messianism of the third party in American politics simply fetishize process over results. Let me explain.

We vote, in theory, to get outcomes. It’s a way of resolving conflicting ideas about laws and policies. In this primary season we have heard an endless amount of talk about a rigged system, or how this process or that is unfair or undemocratic without any discussion at all about what the outcome should be. Don’t we want good candidates? Have the McGovern Rules produced better candidates and better presidents than the “smoke filled rooms” did? The almost theological assumption in all of this is that the fairest process—whatever that is—will produce the best candidates (defined either as the most able to further your agenda or as most successful overall). What’s the evidence for that? There is none.

Similarly, empowering the Green Party is mostly about process. How many people out there genuinely support 100% of their platform? Don’t tell me that if they were on a level playing field that suddenly the majority of the people would support everything they do? I doubt even most liberals would vote Green if they saw it on its own terms and instead of merely as a “more left wing” party. The Green Party is anti-science and supports what amounts to eco-faith healing to be paid for by socialized medicine, is anti-vax [CB note: That claim seems dubious*], and basically calls for the dismantling of the U.S. economy. Yet we’re to believe there is a wide constituency here that the rigged system is preventing from unleashing?

By comparison, Bernie Sanders’ proposals are within the mainstream of European politics, if not American. Even in Europe there is virtually nowhere that has enacted a substantial portion of the Greens’ platform.

Barring major amendments to our Constitutional system, having more than two parties winning electoral votes would simply render presidential elections meaningless and throw them to Congress, where the vote is by state delegation not population, which will almost always favor Republicans. And even in Congress, the evidence from countries with many parties is that coalitions are unstable and often impotent.

So, are pro-Greens willing to create a permanent Republican presidency coupled with a Congress incapable of moving a single bill simply to have a “fair” electoral process? Bless their little hearts. They are so radical they are willing to do anything except be patient and wait for change to come incrementally.

This next reader, Sandeep, is sympathetic to Gary’s argument but, like Jon, is very doubtful that the Green Party is the way to go, especially given its dissonance with California’s Green Party when it comes to immigration:

My great fear, as a Democrat, is that we will wind up with a party where the elites can invoke social issues relating to identity politics come election time to produce a victorious presidential mandate that allows them to push pro-corporate policies that undermine their own electorate. And that they will be able to get away with this again and again because there’s only two choices in our democracy, which means they will always be able to point a finger at the Trumps of the world to justify themselves as the lesser evil.

But the Green Party has always seemed a bit dissonant to me, like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing. I live in California, and right now the state Green Party’s platform supports open borders with Mexico. When Jill Stein ran for President in 2012, she supported border passes for all of Mexico and Canada. [CB note: The national Green Party’s plank on immigration still calls for “permanent border passes to all citizens of Mexico and Canada whose identity can be traced and verified.”] I share reader Gary’s concern that illegal immigration guts the working class (and quite frankly the anger of the Trump base is understandable when you consider that the coast-based liberal elites have mocked their concerns for years with memes like “Dey took er jerbs!”). But you get different sources insisting that the Green Party has a sensible stance on immigration and others claiming the Green Party is alright with everyone in Mexico moving into the States if they want to.

Want to join the debate? Drop us an email. * Update from Jon, responding to my parenthetical doubting his claim that the Green Party is anti-vaccination (since I couldn’t find any good examples online):

That’s fair enough, and some of it boils down to how much you want to hold them to their international associations and the lower levels of those associations. Does using the same name as the parties in other countries mean anything or not? They are apparently at least savvy enough to not make this explicit, but they are verifiably pro-homeopathy and so I ask what’s the difference between drinking herbal tea to cure a disease and avoiding vaccines? Not much.

The best I could come up with is an article that cites a Green Party Councilor in the UK (kind of like a county supervisor in England). So, fair enough that’s not an explicit plank of the U.S. party, but to ask taxpayers to fund homeopathy is probably on the whole worse than just being against vaccination since the latter can sometimes be made unnecessary due to herd immunity, but no one who is diagnosed with cancer is going to go into remission because they are drinking some magic potion.

The homeopathy thing still seems like a small part of the Green Party’s platform; here’s an exchange with Jill Stein on the issue from four years ago, and Stein—a physician, it should be noted—agreed with the moderator that “the Green Party platform here takes an admittedly simple position on a complex issue, and should be improved.”