When I had my 15 minutes of fame in the summer of 2017 and managed to help Steve Bannon get himself fired, Bannon told me this: “The Democrats—the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Well, brother Bannon may get his wish. I’ve been arguing for as long as I can remember that progressive pocketbook economics is needed to bridge over schisms of race—to remind non-rich citizens of all classes that their common foe is the 1 percent, not each other.
The likely candidates who do that best happen to be white—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and maybe Jeff Merkley. Of the two African American or mixed-heritage candidates in the contest so far, Kamala Harris is more center-leftish, and Cory Booker is pure corporate Democrat.
Both, of course, talk a lot about race. Booker’s opening line, in his announcement today, talked about black-white bridge-building, but in a context that was about race, and not class. In Booker’s emailed announcement, he said:
We are better when we help each other. I learned that early in my life.
When I was a baby, my parents tried to move us into a neighborhood with great public schools, but no realtors would sell us a home because of the color of our skin. A group of white volunteer lawyers, who had seen the news of civil rights activists marching in Selma on Bloody Sunday, were inspired to help black families in their own community, including mine.
They didn’t know me or my parents. They helped a family they had never met—and it changed the course of my entire life.
That’s Booker’s life experience and if that’s how he plans to use it in his campaign, I have no right to challenge it. At the same time, if race is front and center to the exclusion of pocketbook populist and anti-corporate themes, it’s a gift to Bannon.
It’s also the case that Booker and Harris are looking to the early Southern primaries, especially South Carolina, to certify themselves as front-runners. Most of the Democratic primary voters in those primaries are African-American.
That dynamic will also bring race to the fore. It will take a very brave African-American leader in South Carolina to support, say, a Sherrod Brown or an Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have superb records on civil rights, over a Kamala Harris or a Cory Booker.
Look, it’s a free country (just barely since Trump). I can’t tell people whether to run, or how to campaign. It’s also the case that America has a great deal of disgraceful unfinished business on the subject of race that is long overdue for remedy, and white people need to recognize that. And we do need to talk about race and racism.
I also know that if race, rather the common economic screwing of both blacks and whites by America’s plutocrats, becomes the defining issue of the 2020 election, Steve Bannon will be laughing all the way to the bank.
This will be a majority-minority country by mid-century. It isn’t that yet. To defeat Trump, we need the broadest possible multiracial coalition around progressive pocketbook issues.