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review 2020-07-15 08:15
Identity politics, “lived experiences” and an end to moderation


By 2045, a majority of the US population will be people of color. This will change the electoral makeup and enable people of color to have a transformative political impact.


In Zerlina Maxwell’s, The End of White Politics - How to Heal Our Liberal Divide, the former staffer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign explains this is not a movement, it’s not a theory, it’s a demographic fact. To take advantage of this shift, the Democratic Party has to listen to the people of color and diverse groups, promote them to positions of power within the party, and let them lead the way.


According to Maxwell, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, and that applies to all white males including those in the Democratic Party. Maxwell takes aim at the Bernie Bros, calling them “a manifestation of white male privilege”, and the “same as Trump supporters responding to the same perceived loss of privileges.” She claims whitelash increased racial solidarity among white people with the shared perception that they were losing status, rights, and privileges they had traditionally enjoyed was the reason for the Trump win.


She endorses identity-based politics explaining, in reality, it is politics saying there is more than one experience to consider. That means embracing identities other than those that are white, male, and heteronormative and accordingly running political campaigns based on the needs and experiences of those African Americans, Latinx, and the LGBTQ+ communities and women. Though women currently are a majority of the US population, their numbers don’t reflect that in elected officials.


Critical of Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, she suggests he has a “long history of telling the black constituency he can be trusted, while simultaneously authoring and implementing policies that would hurt them.” This includes supporting Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that has resulted in the current crisis of mass incarceration.


Maxwell identifies with The Squad, four young women of color recently elected to Congress saying, “there is no group more representative of how the next generation of leadership will look than The Squad.” She’s a supporter of their outspoken candor on public policy saying that lived experiences make better-informed policymaking. To Maxwell, the impulse of most Democrats to be moderate “feels like a manifestation of the white privilege that has plagued us for so long. Being a moderate is not a virtue. Moderation does not pull us toward progress.”


The book is dense with facts and then some since Maxwell has a tendency to repeat the same arguments in different context. She’s also fond of political jargon and memes, ostensibly to enhance her insider credibility, but which frequently sent me on an internet search to understand.


As an analysis of the current state of America’s political system, The End of White Politics reads like the future, like an awakening, like common sense.


Written with passion and commitment, Zerlina Maxwell presents her argument persuasively and unapologetically, and with enough anecdotes to lift it above the political thesis. She reminds us when she quotes feminist Laura Duca, “At any given moment, you’re either actively fighting for equality, or you’re complicit in the system of oppression that prevents it.”

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text 2015-06-02 14:31
Normalizing Japan - Still a Classic on Japanese Defense
Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice - Andrew L. Oros

Along with the work of Tomohito Shinoda, Richard Samuels, Soeya Yoshihide, and Michael Green, Andrew Oros's book on Japanese security rightly deserves to be called a classic on the subject.

In focusing on Japan's security identity, Oros is in someways picking up where constructivists like Thomas Berger and Peter Katzenstein left off.

Oros's books examines the persistence of Japan’s security identity from the post-War period through the Cold War into the post-Cold War period. As the author recognizes, many authors, such as Kliman (2006), examine how Japan is being normalized by shifts in the material structure of the international system. Oros argues that despite these shifts in material structure, there has been a relatively persistent Japanese security identity that has been “hegemonic” in Japanese domestic politics.

This security identity shapes the public debate, provides its vocabulary, but does not determine the outcome. Or as Oros says, “Japan’s security identity structures specific policy outcomes in three ways: through its influence on political rhetoric, its structuring of public opinion and the coalition-building opportunities this enables, and its institutionalization into the policy-making process” (p. 32); also by “exacting costs for violators of the security identity” (p. 33).

Thus, Oros’s book looks at the relative permanence and flexibility of Japanese internal social structure. As Oros argues, these principles shape what is considered “normal” in Japanese politics. This security identity is not a “strategy” in that it is constructed by political elites, but rather “a resilient identity that is politically negotiated and comprises a widely accepted set of principles on the acceptable scope of state practices in the realm of national security” (3).

Oros finds that the main pattern of security change has been the three “Rs”: “reach, reconcile, and reassure” (p. 33). Each new security initiative is followed by a period where this new initiative is reconciled with the prevailing security identity and then the public is reassured about the extent of its influence. Oros is not blind to reforms in defense that stress adjustments to the worsening security dilemma in Asia. However, his explanatory framework emphasizes the relative consistency in Japanese policy from the Cold War into the post-Cold War.

Though the book was written nearly seven years ago, one can still see many of the qualities of "reach, reconcile, and reassure" in the recent defense initiatives proposed by the current conservative government.

For Oros, the dominant security identity of Japan is not “pacifism”, but rather domestic anti-militarism. According to Oros, the three central tenets of domestic anti-militarism are: no traditional armed forces, no use of force by Japan except in self-defense, no Japanese participation in foreign wars. Though the security identity does not determine agent actions, those politicians who wish to cross a boundary, must pay the political costs.

Even as Japan continues its rightward turn, works like Oros's that focus on Japan's anti-militarist identity will still hold important value. They will help explain why defense reforms tend to stop, stutter, and restart, moving at a glacial pace, even as external threats loom large. They will also help explain why conservative governments, with strong desires for a "normal military" end up settling for half-measures that usually channel these desires through initiatives that focus on more anti-militarist measures like peacekeeping, global cooperation, and disaster assistance.

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