Barone: Biden brings identity politics and no apologies

By Michael Barone

Identity politics seems to be sticking around. Important election results seemed to refute the notion that Americans vote for their ethnic or racial identity. Hispanic voters trended significantly toward the supposedly anti-Hispanic Donald Trump, and Californians, while voting 63% for Joe Biden, rejected racial quotas and preferences in a referendum by an even larger margin than in the 1990s.

But Joe Biden seemed to be playing identity politics with his major appointments. "Identity-based groups," The New York Times is reporting, "continue to lobby Mr. Biden to ensure racial and gender diversity at all levels of his administration."

He's facing demands for two Cabinet posts for "Latinas," for a Black attorney general and for a Native American interior secretary. He's facing criticism for placing "people of color" in posts for which they have no apparent expertise - Xavier Becerra at the Department of Health and Human Services, Susan Rice at the Domestic Policy Council.

Every incoming president faces vexing choices - and scornful criticism - but it's an especially vexing problem for Democrats. Their party, since its creation in 1832, has been an often-unwieldy coalition of out-groups with grievances and self-appointed advocates. Their urban political bosses developed the art of balancing party tickets dozens of decades ago.

The plaints and pleas of identity-group advocates can sometimes seem disconnected from reality. How many Hispanic-surnamed women out there are determined to renounce the Democratic Party unless Biden appoints to his Cabinet not just one but two Latinas? Will Black voters really feel betrayed if this Democratic president doesn't appoint a Black attorney general as the last Democratic president did?

At this point in our history, it seems apparent that Americans will not only accept but also approve of appointees of any ethnic or racial description, depending on their performance and policies. And one suspects that among the public, if not in the press, most people care more about policy than ethnicity, more about competence than ticket balancing.

On that count, the Biden administration is shaping up to be less radical than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad may like, but also sharp-edged in its partisanship. Becerra's legal persecution of abortion opponents and Rice's willingness to advance falsehoods about the 2012 Benghazi attack are pertinent examples that could prove of greater importance than their racial classifications.

A sharp-edged partisan tone was also apparent in Joe Biden's mostly emollient remarks when he acknowledged his victory in the Electoral College.

"It's time to turn the page as we've done throughout our history," Biden said, "to unite, to heal." He promised to "be president for all Americans." But he also took pains to rebuke Donald Trump and Republicans who have supported the Texas attorney general's lawsuit to overturn the results in four other states, rejected by an essentially unanimous Supreme Court.

Biden was right in disparaging that particular case and for noting that other pro-Trump lawsuits were not successful. But he was wrong to suggest that Trump's victory four years ago was accepted ungrudgingly by Democrats.

Calls "to work together to give each other a chance to lower the temperature" are likely to prove unavailing absent a confession of error - an acknowledgment and apology - from those, including the president-elect, who denied the legitimacy of the man who was president-elect four years ago.

But, hey, back to business as usual. There's no sign that acknowledgments, much less apologies, are forthcoming, while the identity politics cabinetmaking merrily continues.

© 2020, Creators

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