[sixties-l] RE: Election and identity politics

From: Lauter, Paul (lauter@exchange.cc.trincoll.edu)
Date: 11/02/00

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    I thought folks might find the following letter from Barney Frank to Ralph
    Nader of interest, given the discussion that has been on-going.  But it also
    raises a more general question about the relation of what Frank focuses
    on--forms, really, of identity politics--to the kind of issues of class and
    corporate power that Jeff has consistently, and well, illuminated.  (Yes,
    I'm oversimplifying on both hands.)  There are those on the left (we could
    all name some) who have tended to blame identity politics for the decline
    and fragmentation of the movement.  There are others of us (myself included)
    who believe that no movement for change will get far in this country unless
    it is as responsive to the priorities of what's called, often slightingly,
    identity politics as to those of class.  In fact, my own sense is that part
    of the problem in the anti-war movement of the 60s--one that came up every
    time we scheduled a demo in DC--was its tendency to marginalize the kinds of
    issues to which Frank speaks.
    	At any rate, here's the letter:
    Mr. Ralph Nader Nader 2000 P.O. Box 18002 Washington, DC 20036
    Dear Ralph:
    Because the debate between us concerns some of the most important public
    policy issues facing this country, I thought it best to write directly to
    in the interest of better clarifying issues for the voters.
    In your comments at the National Press Club, you noted that you had been
    concerned about civil rights and civil liberties for some time, and
    specifically mentioned your opposition to the exclusion of women from juries
    during the 1950s. (Since you apparently think it relevant as to where I was
    school at that time, and what I was doing there, I should note that I left
    elementary school in 1953 and graduated from high school in 1957. As a
    cultural note, I am not aware that any elementary or high school students
    playing soccer in Bayonne during that time. My elementary school sports were
    baseball and football when we could get to a park, and stickball when we
    I admire your opposition to blatant sexism in jury service, but that does
    seem to be of great relevance to the specific issues I have been discussing
    concerning your view that there are no important differences between
    Bush and Vice President Gore. My explicit points are that Gore and Bush
    sharply on whether or not a woman should be allowed to decide to have an
    abortion; whether or not the federal government should act against
    discrimination based on sexual orientation; whether or not the federal
    government should seek to regulate gun ownership further; and on important
    aspects of how to deal with racial prejudice, including the subject of
    affirmative action.
    What I have said and am saying is that your assertion that there are no
    important issue differences between Bush and Gore is either flatly
    or reflects your view that the issues I have just cited are not important.
    I have further argued, based on my own experience in Congress in dealing
    these issues, and my recollection of your advocacy, that since you have
    generally ignored these issues in your career, it is reasonable to assume
    the answer is that you do not believe that they are important. Obviously, as
    citizen advocate you are free to choose for yourself which issues to become
    involved with and which ones to ignore. But, now that you have become a
    candidate for President, your dismissal of the relevance of these issues to
    the Presidential election undermines the efforts of those of us who are
    working on them.
    Apparently, you are beginning to recognize that this posture is an obstacle
    your gaining votes among many liberals and others to whom these are very
    significant concerns. And I take it that is why you asserted at the Press
    that you are a "superior" candidate to Gore on gay and lesbian concerns. On
    this point, the record flatly contradicts you. Vice President Gore has been
    active advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals for many
    On the one issue where he falls short -- the question of marriage -- I
    remember when we were fighting this battle in 1996, you refused to take a
    position against the Defense of Marriage Act on the dismissive ground that
    did not wish to get involved in "gonadal politics."
    Your desire to avoid what you deride as "gonadal politics," and I think of
    the fight for gay and lesbian rights, has been consistent. Having been
    actively involved in the fight against gay and lesbian bias in Congress
    1981, I cannot remember ever hearing from you on this subject. And the
    shows that you have similarly avoided the subject of abortion. To the extent
    that you have now decided that in your search for votes you should take a
    position on at least some of these issues, I welcome that. But, it is
    inconsistent with recognition of the importance of these issues to continue
    claim that there are no major differences between the Democratic and
    Republican Presidential candidates.
    The leading organizations fighting for the right of women to choose
    abortion, and for the ability of gay, lesbian and bisexual people to be free
    from discrimination, endorsed Vice President Gore during the primary season,
    reflecting their understanding of his strong commitment to these issues.
    decision to join him in this advocacy is encouraging and reflects the
    we have made in helping create a strong constituency for them. But your
    support will be incomplete as long as you continue to maintain that these
    issues are irrelevant to the choice of a President.
    I should add that I am prepared to apologize for describing you as
    to these issues during your career as an advocate if you can provide me with
    evidence that I am wrong. In your discussion at the Press Club, you
    discrimination against women on juries four or five decades ago as an
    of your concern. If there are more recent examples -- say, from the 80s or
    -- of your working to protect a women's right to choose, oppose
    based on sexual orientation, or support affirmative action for racial
    minorities, I would be glad to learn of them. No one I have spoken to in
    Congress or in the relevant advocacy groups can recall your playing such a

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