[sixties-l] RE: Election and identity politics >

From: Jeffrey Blankfort (jab@tucradio.org)
Date: 11/04/00

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    Barney Frank has this nice, folksy manner, which conceals as much
    hypocrisy as any ward politician. Until gay rights and a woman's right
    to choose became popular issues, Gore had compiled a long and sorry
    record of anti-gay statements and was openly anti-choice that were
    comparable or worse than anything Dubya or Cheney has come up with and
    Frank knows that, Barney is a genuine party loyalist and can be counted
    on to support such lovely actions as the genocidal sanctions against
    Iraq, the bombing of Serbia, and he is resolutely behind whatever Israel
    chooses to do to the Palestinians or Lebanese. At the time that he
    writes to Nader about, the latter was not seeking political office, and
    was focused on correcting corporate misdeeds. Would he reasonably be
    expected to take a position on every issue on the country's political
    agenda? I think not. There were other issues at the time, our
    intervention in Central America, which for me, was a hell of a lot more
    important than the Defense of Marriage Act, and I don't recall Nader
    making statements about that either. So what? His field of expertise was
    corporate misdeeds and he was wise to stick to it. .  And I find nothing
    wrong with his staying out of that issue as he stayed out of many others
    Identity politics has played an important role in activating people who
    might otherwise keep their distance from the political arena, and was
    the basis, of course for one of the most important movements of out
    time, the civil right movement, which in turn, has been copied with
    considerable success and primed with considerably more money by the
    women's movement and the gay and lesbian movement. The national
    organizations created by these more recent movements have become
    increasingly and distressingly opportunistic as they melted into the
    Democratic Party fold, and from my standpoint, present a barrier to
    building a broad movement, much like the AFL-CIO has been for the past
    four decades.
    Seattle was a success because it focused on a single issue: the WTO and
    global capitalism.  Protesters were of all ages, colors and sexual
    orientations, coming together in recognition of the impact that global
    capitalism as virtually every aspect of everyone's life on the planet.
    Los Angeles's D2K was a failure because everyone was marching for their
    favorite, albeit worthy cause--one day there were five separate marches
    or rallies--and there was no focus. No easy answers here.
    Jeff Blankfort
    > Paul Lauter wrote:
    > 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
    > you
    > 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
    > in
    > school at that time, and what I was doing there, I should note that I left
    > elementary school in 1953 and graduate from high school in 1957. As a
    > further
    > cultural note, I am not aware that any elementary or high school students
    > were
    > 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
    > couldn't.)
    > I admire your opposition to blatant sexism in jury service, but that does
    > not
    > seem to be of great relevance to the specific issues I have been discussing
    > concerning your view that there are no important differences between
    > Governor
    > Bush and Vice President Gore. My explicit points are that Gore and Bush
    > differ
    > 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
    > inaccurate
    > or reflects your view that the issues I have just cited are not important.
    > And
    > I have further argued, based on my own experience in Congress in dealing
    > with
    > these issues, and my recollection of your advocacy, that since you have
    > generally ignored these issues in your career, it is reasonable to assume
    > that
    > the answer is that you do not believe that they are important. Obviously, as
    > a
    > 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
    > to
    > 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
    > Club
    > 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
    > an
    > active advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals for many
    > years.
    > 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
    > you
    > did not wish to get involved in "gonadal politics."
    > Your desire to avoid what you deride as "gonadal politics," and I think of
    > as
    > the fight for gay and lesbian rights, has been consistent. Having been
    > actively involved in the fight against gay and lesbian bias in Congress
    > since
    > 1981, I cannot remember ever hearing from you on this subject. And the
    > record
    > 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
    > to
    > 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
    > regarding
    > 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.
    > Your
    > decision to join him in this advocacy is encouraging and reflects the
    > progress
    > 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
    > indifferent
    > 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
    > mentioned
    > discrimination against women on juries four or five decades ago as an
    > example
    > of your concern. If there are more recent examples -- say, from the 80s or
    > 90s
    > - -- of your working to protect a women's right to choose, oppose
    > discrimination
    > 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
    > role.
    > ------------------------------
    > End of sixties-l-digest V1 #378
    > *******************************

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