Our View: Identity Politics

Our View: Identity Politics

The presidential selection process is approaching Georgia. Early voting for the primary began Feb. 8, and SEC Primary Day itself, March 1, is less than two weeks away.

We’re not The New York Times, which endorsed Democratic and Republican candidates as the primary season began, so we’re not going to tell you whom to vote for at this stage in the process. We’ll wait for the general election.

Next week we will present columns from supporters of all of the major candidates, making appeals for your vote. We expect the style of those columns to vary as much as the candidates for whom the writers are speaking.

We also expect the columnists to disagree on the basis on which you should choose our president. Differences on issues, including which issues matter, are normal, but questions of identity also come into play.

Should people, especially women, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and feminist icon Gloria Steinem argued before the New Hampshire primary, vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman and it’s time for the United States to have its first female president?

Should people, especially we Jews, vote for Bernie Sanders, who in New Hampshire became the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary, because he would be the first Jewish president?

Should Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gain votes not only because of their Hispanic last names and Latino origins, but because they showed during the Republican debate in South Carolina on Saturday night, Feb. 13, that they can speak Spanish?

Does Ben Carson bounce back from his awful showing in lily-white New Hampshire — where he finished well behind two candidates, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who then dropped out of the race — because more voters in South Carolina share his skin tone? Or, just as being Catholic was removed as a serious consideration once John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president, have Barack Obama’s two terms as the first black president allowed us as an electorate to move on?

Sanders has gotten some criticism for not playing the game of identity politics. Faced with an opponent who claims to be anti-establishment simply because her sex would allow her to make history, the Vermont senator has argued over who is the true warrior against the establishment: the socialist who has served in Congress for 25 years or the former senator and secretary of state who has the overwhelming backing of Democratic superdelegates, who by definition are the establishment.

Sanders has shied away from discussing his religion to an awkward extent, as when he talks about his father as a “Polish immigrant” and when he said in a debate that his election would be historic because of his background, without specifying any part of that background.

It’s possible Sanders doesn’t want to discuss his religious identity because he doesn’t want to talk about whether he has faith in anything other than government. Perhaps 35 years of campaigns in Vermont have conditioned him not to bring up religion. Maybe, as he indicated in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, his Jewishness is so obvious that it’s not worth addressing.

We suspect, however, that Sanders simply rejects the notion that voters should respond to a candidate’s identity instead of his ideas. It’s a refreshing approach.

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