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Opinion | It Isn’t That Easy to Just Give People What They Want


3. How should a Democrat respond to questions concerning intergenerational poverty, nonmarital births and the issue of fatherlessness?

In an email, Teixeira addressed affirmative action:

Affirmative action in the sense of, say, racial preferences has always been unpopular and continues to be so. The latest evidence comes from the deep blue state of California which defeated an effort to reinstate race and gender preferences in public education, employment and contracting by an overwhelming 57-43 margin. As President Obama once put it: ‘We have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren’t getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more,’ There has always been a strong case for class-based affirmative action which is perhaps worth revisiting rather than doubling down on race-based affirmative action.

Teixeira on Kendi’s arguments:

It is remarkable how willing liberal elites have been to countenance Kendi’s extreme views which ascribe all racial disparities in American society to racism and a system of untrammeled white supremacy (and only that), insist that all policies/actions can only be racist or anti-racist in any context and advocate for a Department of Anti-Racism staffed by anti-racist “experts” who would have the power to nullify any and all local, state and federal legislation deemed not truly anti-racist (and therefore, by Kendi’s logic, racist). These ideas are dubious empirically, massively simplistic and completely impractical in real world terms. And to observe they are politically toxic is an understatement.

The left, in Teixeira’s view,

has paid a considerable price for abandoning universalism and for its increasingly strong linkage to Kendi-style views and militant identity politics in general. This has resulted in branding the party as focused on, or at least distracted by, issues of little relevance to most voters’ lives. Worse, the focus has led many working-class voters to believe that, unless they subscribe to this emerging worldview and are willing to speak its language, they will be condemned as reactionary, intolerant, and racist by those who purport to represent their interests. To some extent these voters are right: They really are looked down upon by elements of the left — typically younger, well-educated, and metropolitan — who embrace identity politics and the intersectional approach.

In March, Halpin wrote an essay, “The Rise of the Neo-Universalists,” in which he argued that

there is an emerging pool of political leaders, thinkers and citizens without an ideological home. They come from the left, right, and center but all share a common aversion to the sectarian, identity-based politics that dominates modern political discourse and the partisan and media institutions that set the public agenda.

He calls this constituency “neo-universalists,” and says that they are united by “a vision of American citizenship based on the core belief in the equal dignity and rights of all people.” This means, he continued,

not treating people differently based on their gender or their skin color, or where they were born or what they believe. This means employing collective resources to help provide for the ‘general welfare’ of all people in terms of jobs, housing, education, and health care. This means giving people a chance and not assuming the worst of them.

How, then, would neo-universalism deal with gender and race-based affirmative action policies?

“In terms of affirmative action, neo-universalism would agree with the original need and purpose of affirmative action following the legal dismantling of racial and gender discrimination,” Halpin wrote in an email:

America needed a series of steps to overcome the legal and institutional hurdles to their advancement in education, the workplace, and wider life. Fifty years later, there has been tremendous progress on this front and we now face a situation where ongoing discrimination in favor of historically discriminated groups is hard to defend constitutionally and will likely hit a wall very soon. In order to continue ensuring that all people are integrated into society and life, neo-universalists would favor steps to offer additional assistance to people based on class- or place-based measures such as parental income or school profiles and disparities, in the case of education.

What did Halpin think about Kendi’s views?

A belief in equal dignity and rights for all, as expressed in neo-universalism and traditional liberalism, rejects the race-focused theories of Kendi and others, and particularly the concept that present discrimination based on race is required to overcome past discrimination based on race. There is no constitutional defense of this approach since you clearly cannot deprive people of due process and rights based on their race.

In addition, theories like these, in Halpin’s view, foster “sectarian racial divisions and encourage people to view one another solely through the lens of race and perceptions of who is oppressed and who is privileged.” Liberals, Halpin continued, “spent the bulk of the 20th century trying to get society not to view people this way, so these contemporary critical theories are a huge step backward in terms of building wider coalitions and solidarity across racial, gender, and ethnic lines.”

On the problem of intergenerational poverty, Halpin argued that

Reducing and eradicating poverty is a critical focus for neo-universalists in the liberal tradition. Personal rights and freedom mean little if a person or family does not have a basic foundation of solid income and work, housing, education, and health care. Good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and stable two-parent families are proven to be critical components of building solid middle class life. Although the government cannot tell people how to organize their lives, and it must deal with the reality that not everyone lives or wants to live in a traditional family, the government can take steps to make family life more affordable and stable for everyone, particularly for those with children and low household income.

Although the issue of racial and cultural tension within the Democratic coalition has been the subject of debate for decades, the current focus among Democratic strategists is on the well-educated party elite.

David Shor, a Democratic data analyst, has emerged as a central figure on these matters. Shor’s approach was described by my colleague Ezra Klein last week. First, leaders need to recognize that “the party has become too unrepresentative at its elite levels to continue being representative at the mass level” and then “Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.”

How can Democrats defuse inevitable Republican attacks on contemporary liberalism’s “unpopular stuff” — to use Klein’s phrase — much of which involves issues related to race and immigration along with the disputes raised by identity politics on the left?

Shor observes that “We’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of ‘racial resentment’, ” before adding, “So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.”



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