No matter that she's made a far more (for me) troublesome high-speed journey from conservatism to membership in the Democratic Socialists of America in the space of just a few short years, Julia Salazar is getting raked over the coals by both liberals and right-wingers for some pretty shallow things. The democratic socialist candidate for the New York State Senate finds herself helplessly floundering in the identity politics trap. She's damned if she immigrated, and she's also damned if she's native born. She doesn't help her own case that she keeps amending her answer according to the audience she's addressing. It also doesn't help when, like many a hollow pol before her, she blames her staff for getting her biographical details wrong.
Because all serious candidates for public office are now required to present a compelling personal story (narrative), the competition of who can be the most "diverse" is heating up. And when these personal back-stories get called out on their veracity by opposition researchers looking for any fault, the candidates' supporters, for whom the overarching campaign platform trumps honesty, come to their unquestioning defense. Instead of truth-seeking, one form of dishonesty props up another form of dishonesty, or lies battle lies, all for the justifiable end of "winning."
To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, they become trapped like traps in a trap.
Before you know it, candidates will have to produce their Ancestry genetic profiles along with their tax returns. And that elicits the specter of fascism, and its all-American progenitor, eugenics.
As far as the ridiculous debate over Salazar's ethnicity is concerned, it's a red herring. Anyone of Iberian heritage is bound to have either recent or distant Jewish and African ancestors, because pre-Columbian Spain was a thriving, diverse melting pot. Before Fernando and Isabella evicted the country's entire Jewish population and went to war against the Muslim "infidels" in the south, tolerance of differences wasn't the exception but the rule. With the Inquisition, many Jewish families were forced, on pain of death or torture or financial ruin, to become Christian "conversos" and hide their religion before the diaspora. Tomas de Torquemada, royal confessor and inquisitor of Holy Mother Church, himself had Jewish ancestry.
Practically anybody with a Spanish surname has a genetic blueprint combining European, African, Arab, Jewish, and in the cases of Puerto Ricans and other colonial populations, Native American. So there is nothing even remotely "dishonest" about Salazar's journey of discovery of her Jewish ethnicity, and everything horribly wrong about critics denying her the right to her own ancestry and pettily accusing her of "cultural appropriation." The problem for Salazar comes when she makes her ethnicity a feature of her campaign plank, or at least allows her consultants and operatives to do so.
Like I said, I'm a lot more leery of how a person speeds her way from a right-wing political mindset all the way to a suddenly "cool" democratic socialist one. It usually happens the other way around, such as when former socialists, like Christopher Hitchens and Norman Podhoretz, suddenly pivoted drastically to neoconservatism and supported Bush's invasion of Iraq.
I simply don't bother much any more with any candidate running on the ticket of either right wing of the Money Party, no matter how "progressive" he or she purports to be. While the lefty supporters of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are acting all shocked and dismayed about her sickening tweeted eulogy for John McCain, I just shrug. Whether her rock star treatment by the corporate press has swayed her into "playing the game" out of her own political self-interest, or whether she really does believe that McCain is a hero, is moot at this point.
The problem is that although Julia Salazar rightly complains that people are "exoticizing" her as a star in the identity politics game, she refuses to come right out and disown identity politics itself. To do so would probably be politically suicidal in the current neoliberal climate. Damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't, she plays it both ways.
From The Intercept:
Salazar appears to be arguing that her experience of going back and forth to Colombia as a child has allowed her to experience a version of life in the U.S. as an immigrant. “There isn’t one immigrant identity. Colombia is where my family was and where I was in the first years of my life. Most of the time when people asked about my childhood, they haven’t been interested in literally where was I born. They wanted to know how the first years of my life were spent, and where my family came from,” she told Jewish Currents.Democratic Socialist though she may be, Salazar has fully been captured by the shallow ethos of the modern, corporate-funded Democratic Party. Although not an immigrant, she is co-opting the "immigrant narrative," which, to be fair, has been co-opted by every American politician in memory, no matter how remote the immigration. Bank-subservient war hawk Joe Biden. for example, never forgets to tout his roots in Irish-American Pennsylvania coal country in a ploy to cover up his true ruling class allegiances.
“I would never claim nor have I ever claimed to share the experience of someone who has lived a life threatened by deportation. That’s not part of my narrative. [But] I’ve experienced people exoticizing me, or alienating me, or treating me as different. … I can acknowledge the importance of my family, and how I’ve been separated from my family, and how my family chose to live in the U.S. to be safer. All of this is part of an immigrant narrative.”
The ultimate question is what good is the Democratic Party, or any political party?
True, the Bernie Sanders faction of the so-called Big Tent did score the victory this month of disempowering the super-delegates -- but only on the first ballot in the nominating process. Failure to select a candidate will open the floodgates of the corporate will, so the first round bait and switch is a feature and not a bug of the so-called reform.
Political philosopher Simone Weil was right when she observed in On the Abolition of All Political Parties that the primary concern of these exclusive political clubs is winning power and keeping power, rather than in making people's lives better. Just because the occasional "upstart" defeats an incumbent doesn't mean that the organizational structure of the machine itself will be defeated, let alone reformed.
"Political parties are organizations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and of justice. Collective pressure is exerted upon a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds. All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practice it... Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members."And that, sadly, is true just as well of the so-called Democratic Socialists of America and their slate of young, attractive, rising star candidates.
Despite some recent murmurings of protesting American foreign policy and forging an anti-war plank, the DSA's last statement on the topic was posted nearly five months ago, and merely called for the implementation of an "anti-war think tank" within the organization, to be mainly devoted to a critique of Donald Trump's national security agenda.
As Weil wrote in her own critique of partisan politics, such fuzzy, aspirational proclamations are part and parcel of the con:
"This conception is extremely vague.... No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he himself belong to one) his own.... A doctrine cannot be a collective product."
Although not a political party per se, the DSA is in danger of becoming just another offshoot of the same Democratic machine it purports to disassociate itself from. Correction: the DSA is becoming so quietly assimilated into the machine, it's like the ancient propaganda is being greased with the same old neoliberal identity oil, as in branding and "narrative"-building. I hope I am wrong, and it's just my cynicism getting in the way again.
But when their pressing concern is not whether the United States is helping to bomb Yemeni children to death, but whether one of their own is being unfairly maligned because of her biography and identity, your skeptic radar should probably start to wobble alarmingly across your brain-screen. It sounds like their idea of change, too, is nibbling around the edges of social issues and becoming respected members of the Donald Trump #Resistance, when the mere show becomes the thing, and participatory democracy goes to die yet another of its thousands of zombie deaths.
If that strikes you as being overly pessimistic, here's Jimmy Dore to make you feel even better: