Identity politics seems to be sticking around. Important election results seemed to refute the notion that Americans vote for their ethnic or racial identity. Hispanic voters trended significantly toward the supposedly anti-Hispanic Donald Trump, and Californians, while voting 63% for Joe Biden, rejected racial quotas and preferences in a referendum by an even larger margin than in the 1990s.
But Joe Biden, even as the Supreme Court rejected the last pro-Trump lawsuit and the Electoral College confirmed his 306-232 majority, seemed to be playing identity politics with his major appointments. “Identity-based groups,” The New York Times is reporting, “continue to lobby Mr. Biden to ensure racial and gender diversity at all levels of his administration.”
He’s facing demands for two Cabinet posts for “Latinas,” for a black attorney general and for a Native American interior secretary. He’s facing criticism for placing “people of color” in posts for which they have no apparent expertise — Xavier Becerra at the Department of Health and Human Services, Susan Rice at the Domestic Policy Council.
Every incoming president faces vexing choices — and scornful criticism — but it’s an especially vexing problem for Democrats. Their party, since its creation in 1832, has been an often-unwieldy coalition of out-groups with grievances and self-appointed advocates. Their urban political bosses developed the art of balancing party tickets dozens of decades ago.
The plaints and pleas of identity-group advocates can sometimes seem disconnected from reality. How many Hispanic-surnamed women out there are determined to renounce the Democratic Party unless Biden appoints to his Cabinet not just one but two Latinas (at least The Times isn’t using the university-spawned and unpronounceable adjective “Latinx”)? Will black voters really feel betrayed if this Democratic president doesn’t appoint a black attorney general as the last Democratic president did?
At this point in our history, it seems apparent that Americans will not only accept but also approve of appointees of any ethnic or racial description, depending on their performance and policies. And one suspects that among the public, if not in the press, most people care more about policy than ethnicity, more about competence than ticket balancing.
On that count, the Biden administration is shaping up to be less radical than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad may like, but also sharp-edged in its partisanship. Becerra’s legal persecution of abortion opponents and Rice’s willingness to advance falsehoods about the 2012 Benghazi attack are pertinent examples that could prove of greater importance than their racial classifications.
A sharp-edged partisan tone was also apparent in Joe Biden’s mostly emollient remarks Monday night during which he acknowledged his victory in the Electoral College.
“It’s time to turn the page as we’ve done throughout our history,” Biden said, “to unite, to heal.” He promised to “be president for all Americans.” But he also took pains to rebuke Donald Trump and Republicans who have supported the Texas attorney general’s lawsuit to overturn the results in four other states, rejected by an essentially unanimous Supreme Court.
Biden was right in disparaging that particular case and for noting that other pro-Trump lawsuits were not successful. But he was wrong to suggest that Trump’s victory four years ago was accepted ungrudgingly by Democrats.
On the contrary, congressional Democrats then, on no more basis than the Texas attorney general had last week, challenged the Electoral College results. And Obama administration intelligence and law enforcement officials interfered in the political process during and after the campaign, continuing for years after Trump was inaugurated to advance the charge of collusion with Russia, for which no credible evidence has ever appeared.
Calls “to work together to give each other a chance to lower the temperature” are likely to prove unavailing absent a confession of error — an acknowledgement and apology — from those, including the president-elect, who denied the legitimacy of the man who was president-elect four years ago.
Acknowledgements and apologies should also be forthcoming from major press outlets and from Facebook and Twitter for suppressing what we now know was the valid New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s misdeeds.
The Trump lawsuits failed to identify any wrongdoing that cost Trump electoral votes. But the largely successful suppression of those stories may have changed the outcome of the election, just as Obama-appointed FBI Director James Comey’s late-in-the-campaign statement that reopened the Hillary Clinton email investigation may have changed the outcome in 2016.
But, hey, back to business as usual. There’s no sign that acknowledgements, much less apologies, are forthcoming, while the identity politics cabinetmaking merrily continues.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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