Just because you’re black doesn’t make you a radical

“smiling man and woman hand shaking inside room” by rawpixel on Unsplash

Republicans make much about what they are calling “Trump derangement syndrome,” an alleged obsession among Democrats with impeaching Trump that is continuing to push the Democratic party farther to the left.

This idea that Democrats have somehow become as radical on the left as Republicans have moved to the right has always bothered me. I wonder what it is that Democrats are advocating that is so radical? Remember that the radical Obamacare legislation was a policy that had originally been proposed by Republicans opposed to the Clinton health care initiative, and then was implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican Governor. You may have heard of him… that radical Mitt Romney.

But yet Republicans, whose great legislative accomplishment was a tax giveaway to the very rich that will explode the deficit passed with almost no hearings, equate their legislative approach to that taken by President Obama with healthcare. Reminder, Obamacare had 79 full legislative hearings prior to its passage.

So just what is it about the Democratic party that Republicans think make it so radical. I would submit that it is the Democrats’ propensity to nominate candidates who are not white males.

Consider Barack Obama. In 2008, the left coalesced quickly around him with an expectation that he would accomplish a left-wing progressive agenda. In truth, the most radical thing about Obama is the color of his skin. Remember that he was a Harvard-educated corporate lawyer who did do some work as a community organizer. Note that his radical community organizing was characterized by an effort to build coalitions to steadily improve people’s situation. No, he was no radical. That is partly the reason why many liberals were disappointed with him, and it took some effort to get them enthusiastic for his 2012 re-election campaign.

This year we have Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida, two African-Americans who emerged from the Democratic primaries for Governor of their states. In both cases, they are responsible, moderate leaders. Abrams has been compared to the moderate business-friendly Democrats and Republicans who traditionally occupied the Georgia Governorship. Gillum’s most radical idea is to impose some limitation upon the second amendment right to bear arms. Especially given the number of school and other shootings Florida has endures of late, that is not a radical concept for most people.

What about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you may ask. True, she is a proud Democratic Socialist. But in reality, she is the exception, not the rule. First, very few moderate Democrats have lost their re-election campaigns, and in Trump-leaning states, most incumbent Democrats have not even faced a primary challenge. Second, Ocasio-Cortez represents her district better than Joseph Crowley, an old-school machine Democrat who was out-of-touch with what has become a majority minority district. Similarly, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts is far more representative of her district than white, male, moderate Congressman Michael Capuano. These are just examples of district electing people who look more like them. You don’t see such candidates winning in Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, West Virginia, or even New York state (sorry Cynthia Nixon).

What about radical organizations such as Black Lives Matter? Again, how radical an idea is it that black lives should matter? They’re not saying other lives don’t matter. They’re only emphasizing that black lives matter because they have not been treated as if they matter up until now. The response “all lives matter” or “we stand behind our police” simply serve to silence efforts to raise a very legitimate concern: the large numbers of African-Americans killed — and harassed — by certain rogue police officers. Saying that a law-abiding black person should not have to fear for his or her life every time they step out the door is hardly a radical idea.

Does this mean that we should stop nominating African Americans, women and other traditionally unrepresented groups? No, of course not. We should hope that Congress has a make-up that looks like America as a whole, not simply a rich white conservative slice of it. That said, both sides need to stop assuming that because a black person is elected that he or she is radical. In each case, the effect is to stereotype the person based upon the color of his or her skin. In this era where we hope to treat all people as equals, that will only happen if both sides treat all people as individuals with their own ideas no matter what the color of their skin.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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