It was a rhetorical question, as the obvious answer, noted by my buddy Maggie McNeill just in case I had any doubt, was that partisan delusion can overcome the worst optics. The question went to Kamala Harris’ posting of a video of her questioning Neomi Rao, nominee for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals,
Here’s the bottom line: survivors of sexual assault should not be blamed for the trauma they’ve experienced. Neomi Rao’s prior writings about sexual assault are completely unacceptable and her responses to my questions today were deeply troubling. pic.twitter.com/jlOuhHWtQx
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) February 5, 2019
Harris, in the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, saw this as her moment to nail down her feminist bona fides against “victim blaming” by being thick as a brick. Is it Harris, or her supporters, who take issue with “drink to excess”?
This came after Sen. Cory Booker’s “gotcha” challenge:
Q: Have you ever had any LGBTQ law clerks?
A: I have not been a judge so I don’t have any law clerks.
Spartacus needs to sharpen his blade. To add insult to dullness, there’s no reason why anyone would have reason to know their law clerk’s sexual orientation, unless, of course, it was an issue. Is Booker contending that job applications for judicial law clerks should include a line for sexual orientation?
Why are they going after Neomi Rao, who checks a few boxes on the identitarian grocery clerk’s list? Are they defending the dignity of dwarves?
The Attorney Nominated to Replace Kavanaugh Backtracked on Her Defense of Dwarf Tossing
In the scheme of pandering to the most ardent believer of the faith, this Mother Jones headline is a keeper. Rao used dwarf-tossing as an extreme example in her argument against the vagaries of “dignity” as a constitutional measure. It takes hard work to miss the point, but they, inter alia, managed to do so.
But is this just a matter of attacking Rao as a gender traitor, a Trump nominee for the former seat of the mosted hated Supreme Justice since Gorsuch? Jamelle Bouie argues that it’s not, that this is a very deliberate decision.
In 2017, former Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky gave the Democrats’ response to President Trump’s first address to Congress. The visuals were striking. Beshear, an older white man, was seated in a diner in Lexington, Ky., among an almost entirely white group of patrons. He was dressed casually. Several of the men in the background looked like they did factory work or another form of manual labor. You didn’t need to listen to anything Mr. Beshear said to get the obvious message: The Democratic Party is a big tent, with room for the kinds of working-class white men who backed the president.
On the one hand, it might be noted that the Dems did pretty well by taking the House of Representatives following this optical illusion. On the other hand, winning isn’t everything.
This background is what makes the Democratic response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address so interesting. To rebut the president, offer its vision and give viewers a sense of what the party really looks like, Democrats chose Stacey Abrams, former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and 2018 nominee for governor. Abrams lost narrowly to Gov. Brian Kemp in an election marked by accusations of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. But in defeat she has become a national Democratic star, so prominent and admired that she was given the task of responding to the president.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Stacey Abrams’ claim to fame is that she lost a gubernatorial race, and this makes her the next Beto O’Rourke?
The ascension of Stacey Abrams, like the unprecedentedly diverse class of Democrats elected in 2018, represents a definitive repudiation of the idea that Democrats must downplay “identity” to appeal to the country at large.
It’s not that Beshear’s 2017 SOTU rebuttal ended doubts that the Democratic Party had abandoned all but the marginalized, promising an America where the rights and privileges would be doled out according to the victim hierarchy, but to the extent that anyone suspected there was still room in the tent for liberal values for everyone, Bouie persuasively argues that you can carry Abrams’ water.
As Abrams put it,
The specific methods by which the United States has excluded women, Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community from property ownership, educational achievement, and political enfranchisement have differed; so, too, have the most successful methods of fighting for inclusion — hence the need for a politics that respects and reflects the complicated nature of these identities and the ways in which they intersect.
And so, for example, she doesn’t just call on political leaders to expand health care; she does so in reference to maternal mortality rates for black women and the threat posed to rural communities by hospital closings.
These are all good things, great things, and things with which all of us should be concerned. But not to the exclusion of a “politics that respects” everyone else.
The reception to Abrams’s rebuttal from national Democrats was unbridled enthusiasm, prompting calls for a presidential run.
If she can’t win Georgia, why not the nation?
If that is Abrams’s intention, then she hasn’t just captured the Democratic zeitgeist but has also plotted a way forward with an approach that treats the patchwork nature of its present-day coalition as its greatest strength — the quality that makes it truly democratic.
I don’t doubt that Abrams captured the “Democratic zeitgeist.” Indeed, I doubt that Beshear’s rebuttal was anything more than optics, an insincere play to the working man to pretend that the party’s disdain didn’t run as deep as Hillary Clinton said. But then, not even their claim to respect the “complicated nature of these identities and the ways in which they intersect” seems legit after the way they went after Neomi Rao, not for her judicial philosophy but for her lack of progressive purity.
It turns out that Maggie was more right than I may have realized, and that even in my rhetorical question, I underestimated the “partisan capacity for self-delusion.” If it starts to rain, we’re all going to get very wet as there’s no tent that wants us. Not even a woman, whether Maggie or Neomi Rao, has a place in the tent.