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Policy vs. Representation, and the Brewing Resentments Among Liberals

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | April 8, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | April 8, 2019 |


Here’s Barack Obama on the state of the Democratic Party in 2019, via The Washington Post:

“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States — maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is how it’s going to be,’” Obama said.

He lamented that Democrats sometimes create “what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”

I’m not trying to start a war within our comments section, but I also think that Obama is missing the point. It’s not about “purity of the issues.” I know what the real argument is, because it’s the same argument that we have behind the scenes here at Pajiba every day, and there is a lot of disagreement, though we have managed to keep it very civil because I think everyone understands that we’re all coming from a good place, even if we all seem to be very rooted in our beliefs.

Because we are all on the progressive side of the spectrum, the conflict, as I see it, is not so much progressivism vs. centrism, but progressivism versus representation, and it’s a really tough nut to crack because there’s not really one candidate that completely satisfies both sides of the party yet. Personally, I’m completely torn about it myself, because ideologically speaking, I like to think of myself as someone who supports those policies that benefit those who make less than $50,000 a year, and I think a lot of the party is going that way, toward universal health care, toward raising the minimum wage, etc., etc., and if you are ideologically pure, maybe Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are the most appealing candidates.

But representation matters, too, and I think the Bernie/Warren people sometimes undervalue the psychological importance of seeing themselves reflected in the people for whom we vote. When Bill Clinton ran in ‘92 to be the President of what — at the time — seemed to be a party dominated by wealthy, Massachusetts liberals (the Kennedys), it was a huge deal to me that I could vote for a guy from shit-poor Arkansas raised by a single parent. I went to law school because Bill Clinton’s win made me believe that I could. But after 45 dudes in a row won the Presidency, I feel like most men have seen themselves reflected in the Presidency plenty of enough times, which may be a big reason for the confidence of mediocre white men.

I really want someone other than a straight white dude leading this country, because I’ve been sufficiently represented, goddamnit. A lot of women are understandably opposed to the idea of Bernie, Biden, or Beto, and I get that. Some women are also opposed to Mayor Pete, but to some he is a hero because he represents the LGBTQ community, who have never had someone represent them in the highest office in America, and he also increasingly seems to represent faith-based liberals (which, in my opinion, makes him the perfect running mate to run opposite Mike Pence).

Meanwhile, some of the women running — Gillibrand, Kamala, Klobuchar, potentially Stacy Abrams — provide the representation that 51 percent of the country has never had, but they also seem to run more toward the center, in part because that’s where their political ideologies lie, and in part, because, like Obama, they have to, because a black woman does not have the luxury of being a kooky old man with wild hair harumphing around the country and demanding free college tuition (see, e.g., Courtney’s ALL CAPS Explosion of Feelings Regarding the Liberal Backlash to Hillary). I mean, Kamala got shit a few weeks ago from someone in her own damn party for admitting she smoked pot.

And so, whenever I hop on social media, I see a lot of debate about which candidate best represents their interests, and a lot of separate debate about which candidates best reflects who they are as a person, and the liberal wing of the party hasn’t yet found the ideal candidate to represent both factions. I think Warren might be close, but she’s still older and white. I think that most of the Overlords, at least, agree that an older, more seasoned AOC — or someone like her — might be our ideal candidate (and we know Petr believes this), but for now, it feels like a lot of us are going have to choose between policy and representation. The problem is, choosing based on representation might feel to some like a rejection of their policies, and choosing based on policy might feel like a rejection of the other sides’ representation. And in a political environment as heated as it is now, that rejection brews resentment. That sucks, because at least among the Overlords, I respect and admire them all so much, and as they reflect our larger overall community here, I don’t want anyone to feel rejected because of how we prioritize the qualities and characteristics we look for in a President.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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