The other day a television-and-internet talking head named Mark Halperin, who has his own web-based show and regularly appears on Joe Scarborough’s morning television talking-head gab-fest, interviewed a Republic presidential candidate.
Before we continue, I understand Comrade Halperin is Jewish. Under normal circumstances that would be utterly irrelevant, even less so than whether he sits down to pee.
But circumstances aren’t normal, and that blaring of the irony alarm, as the needle roars past the red line, will suggest to the astute that, yes, it’s precisely Comrade Halperin who’s joyfully participated in making them not normal.
It’s how we got Dear Leader as our president, twice. It’s why we have to fear a President Hillary Clinton. It’s why, for that matter, we never had a President Al Smith. It’s why, year after year, election after election, Black America votes Democrat at 90%+ margins. It’s how we got Point No. 4 of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party platform of 1920. It’s how the Scottish National Party now owns all but two of the Scottish seats in Parliament. It’s why there was a Dixiecrat Party in 1948. It’s why the British had Test Acts for hundreds of years.
The central tenet of identity politics is that who you are dictates — and ought to dictate — how you exercise whatever political rights you have.
The rise of explicit identity politics in the United States represents a subtle shift in the system of political organization that FDR left as his most pernicious legacy. It was FDR, Gentle Reader will recall, who realized that if you promise enough Stuff to enough divergent groups, you can put together a coalition that will, notwithstanding none of them come anywhere close to representing a working majority, nonetheless together be able to seize and maintain power. And the beauty is that each group need have no other tie of interest or sentiment to the others. Unions? Hand ’em the Wagner Act and Davis-Bacon. The industry the unions are busy wrecking? Throw up enough barriers to entry and other anti-competitive regulation (think of it as an internal tariff wall) and they can pass the increased costs of unionization along to their customers. “The Poor”? Hello, welfare state (and by the way, the Cloward-Piven Strategy is nothing more than a formal proposal for logical pursuit of the FDR Doctrine to its conclusion). Atheistic people of such internal emptiness that they’re searching for a faith, any faith, to latch onto? Here’s your very own federal agency, the EPA. Agro-industry? Try farm policy that strongly suggests it was the Soviets who won the Cold War.
For many years, in fact until the 1990s, the FDR Coalition held together and worked, at least if you mean by “worked” that it retained power at the federal level. It not only for decades at a time held onto the reins of legislative political power, it permeated the academy, the courts, the entertainment business, and the mainstream media. Since 1932, even when the other party has managed to grab hold of power, it’s only been in Congress and only for incredibly brief moments — 1954 to 1958, I think, and from 1994 to 2000, and then from 2002 to 2006; it’s never made any notable inroads into the other main theaters of political expression.
It is a legitimate question whether the FDR Coalition’s days are numbered. The first reason is that, as Margaret Thatcher observed about socialism in general, eventually you run out of other people’s money. For decades the federal government could and did tirelessly spend more than it made. It could always borrow more, always run the printing presses. As Inspector Clouseau would say, not any more. With over $16 trillion in debt, and spending levels — expressed in terms of percentage of GDP — not seen since the immediate post-World War II era, the money’s just not there any more. When, as Mitt Romney had the impudence to point out, 94% of your new sovereign debt is being “bought” by your central bank, “At that point you’re just making it up.” Romney was right. We are just making it up, and you can’t run an economy forever with a currency that is imaginary.
The second reason that the FDR Coalition’s continued viability may be questioned is the rise of identity politics. Note the interest groups which FDR cobbled together: With two exceptions they weren’t groups of who people were, but rather what they did. You’re not born a union member; your identity as a farmer is a function of . . . you know, farming. Stop farming and you’re not a farmer any more. All those industries protected from competition by hedgerows of regulation aren’t in those industries by any sort of predestination. The tree-huggers aren’t born that way; you choose to join the NRDC. The two exceptions to the above pattern are blacks and Jews. The former because they are used to being exploited and the power brokers of the Democrat party were Southerners more than happy to ride them like a rented mule; the latter because again you have the cultural legacy of allowing yourself to be plundered for others’ benefit.
Today’s identity politics are much less about what you do, and much more about who you are. The groupings span areas of political and economic activity in a way the old ones didn’t, which means they compete against each other in ways that they didn’t. Back in the day General Motors really didn’t concern itself with agricultural policy, except to the extent that it did or didn’t expand its market for its products. Different groups with nominally opposed interests could achieve a cynical symbiosis, in the fashion of Baptists and bootleggers: Heavy industry and the tree-huggers have more than a bit of that in their relationship: Throw up enormously costly regulatory burdens which everyone in the industry has to comply with, and the existing players can (in fact, must) then pass on all the costs, which means no single player is penalized relative to the others, but new entrants will effectively be barred because there’s no way they can both survive the lean years of start-up and conform to all these regulations. But (at least to the extent you accept all these “identities” as legitimate) a black is a black is a black will never be East Asian will never be Mexican will never be South Asian, no matter how that specific individual makes his living. Under the new identity politics, a black farmer is not a farmer who is black, he’s a black who just happens to farm. He will evaluate any particular policy X not in terms of whether it’s good for all farmers, or even black farmers, but rather whether it’s good for blacks, whether or not they farm.
All of which is to say that the new identity politics assumes, almost necessarily so, a much more viciously zero-sum dynamic of the world. If South Asians are to flourish, it can only be at the expense of some other group(s) X, Y, and/or Z. Notice also that the zero-sum aspect of life spreads like a cancer. Just by way of example, now, instead contenting itself with merely setting up regulatory barriers to market entrants, the green zealot crowd wants to know why it can’t just go ahead and destroy Industry X outright.
One outgrowth of modern identity politics is the resurgence of the trial for heresy, although this time around (at least for the time being) it’s not a government-sponsored proceeding. It’s not enough simply to show that you are, by whatever criteria, a “member” of Group X. No, nowadays you must be “authentically” a member of Group X, and it’s the self-appointed gate-keepers who determine whether you are. If you fail to satisfy them, you are cast into outer darkness, rejected by your identity-group but unable to be accepted into anyone else’s because from birth you lack that identity trait. Just ask Tim Scott, Mia Love, Thomas Sowell, Ben Carson, or Allen West what it’s like to be tried for group heresy. [I’ll note that the insistence that government pigeon-hole all of us into specific identity groupings is at the least a precursor to group heresy becoming a matter with which government concerns itself. Remind me how that worked out last time. Anyone remember Hermann Goering’s statement when he concocted a new lineage for Field Marshal Erhard Milch (whose father was Jewish)? “I decide who is a Jew.”]
And of course, once you begin whacking the population up into groups, there’s no logical place to stop. The groups get more and more finely sorted, each demanding that policies be put in place which advance its members, or which the (invariably self-appointed) “leadership” of that group alleges will advance its members. And if not advancement, then the suppression of the competing groups.
The natural tendency of this is toward societal entropy and political anarchy.
And absurdity. As we now see on university campuses, the mere presence on campus of someone from the Out Group is taken as the equivalent of actual physical violence. Thank God at least some college students aren’t having it. A few days ago, as mentioned above, we enjoyed the spectacle of a Jewish talking head interviewing Ted Cruz, whose father was born in Cuba, and demanding that Cruz “prove” he’s “really Cuban.” For starts, huh? I wasn’t aware that Cruz was running for Castro’s job. I thought he was running for U.S. President. But Halperin — the talking head in question — goes, as one Twitter feed has observed, “full racist” on the subject, interviewing Ted Cruz and expecting Ricky Ricardo. Needless to say, this has not resonated at all well with any number of people, on both ends of the ideology spectrum. Twitter is collecting people’s suggestions for questions that Halperin can ask of the other candidates to prove up their identity bona fides. Among my favorites are the one for Sen. Warren, asking how she applies her war paint, or for Dr. Carson, asking whether he prefers watermelon or fried chicken. Or for Halperin himself, asking where he hides his Jew gold (hell’s bells, we might as well go full blood-libel on him and ask if he’s recently used the blood of any Christian children while desecrating the Host).
Of course, this descent into identity madness offers the Republican party an enormous opportunity, if it’s collectively smart enough to seize it. Its challenge is so to conduct itself, and so to present itself, that it can demonstrate to the voters at large — and especially those who are put off by all this my-ass-is-blackest demagoguery — that it genuinely takes seriously the motto “E pluribus Unum.” What it cannot credibly do is play the identity game with the left-extremists. Cruz, I think, gets that much: He politely declined Halperin’s invitation to welcome Bernie Sanders to the race in Spanish.
Exit bonus question: Does anyone really expect Mark Halperin to suffer any consequences for what would have already got him fired and ostracized, had he done the same to Dear Leader or any other Democrat?