Friday, May 08, 2020

Educate Me: Markey vs. Kennedy

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy (D) is challenging incumbent Senator Ed Markey (also D) in a primary. Recent polling suggests Kennedy is ahead.

Can someone explain to me why this primary is happening? From what I can tell, Markey and Kennedy have relatively similar views. Markey is a staunch progressive, but Kennedy is not challenging him from the center. There's no scandal I know of in Markey's file either. It seems that the motive for Kennedy's challenge is nothing more than "I want to be a bigger deal than I am now", which is not exactly the most inspiring rallying cry for a primary campaign. Yet he seems to be winning. Is it just the magic of the Kennedy name in Massachusetts?

I have a pretty high bar for supporting primary challenges against Democratic incumbents,* and things like "we need a fresh face" or "generational change" virtually never qualify. If there's anything to Kennedy's challenge other than an ego trip, I'd love to hear it.

* Recent examples of challenges that passed this bar include Marie Newman over Dan Lipinski and Jessica Cisneros taking on Henry Cuellar.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Performing Solidarity Anxiety in the Jewish Community

The other day, prominent Hasidic Jewish representatives published a defense of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The letter emphasized their community's generally strong relationship with de Blasio as well as their commitment to observing social distancing protocols. It expressed a desire to "disavow the attacks and derogatory language against our mayor, from people from outside the community and from reckless people among us."

De Blasio had come under fire after tweeting a message to the "Jewish community" lambasting the failure to adhere to social distancing requirements after a large Hasidic funeral drew crowds in the city streets. This message was viewed as unduly singling out Jews in general and Hasidic Jews in particular as violators of social distancing requirements, when in reality this was an isolated incident which one could find parallels among New Yorkers of all stripes. Until this letter, the hostile response to de Blasio was one of the great unifiers in the Jewish community -- which made it all the more striking that the defense of de Blasio came from the segment of the community that the rest of us were nominally trying to stand up for. What's going on?

Well, many things, in all likelihood. But one thing I suspect we're seeing is a form of solidarity anxiety -- the desire to be (and be seen as) an ally to a given community without possessing the sort of deep connections to it that generate knowledge regarding what would actually be seen as allyship.  In these circumstances, one grasps onto high profile events or causes that seem like an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity, but in doing so one often imputes assumptions or stereotypes regarding what one imagines the interests of the group to be that are at best oversimplified and at worst flat wrong. Something like this, I think, is at work in the recent finding that White Democrats were more likely to be "bothered" that the Democratic nominee was a White man than non-White Democrats. It's important to White Democrats that they present themselves as allies to People of Color, and expressing concern about nominating a White guy seems like a decent way to effectuate such a presentation -- even as, it turns out, non-White Democrats aren't especially motivated by the question.*

Among Jews, there was already some tension among non-Ultra Orthodox Jews facing accusations that they were insufficiently concerned with street violence faced by their Ultra Orthodox peers in New York City (ironically, not all but certainly some of those accusations were also being leveled by non-Orthodox actors who themselves were seeking to perform a sort of solidarity anxiety -- often by wrongfully assuming aggressive attacks on "Black antisemitism" were the way the ultra-Orthodox wished solidarity to be expressed). I think that background is germane to how the broader Jewish community responded to this case -- it was an opportunity to get loud and be clear in support of their Hasidic fellows.

In particular, I don't think it was wrong for non-Hasidic Jews to view de Blasio as having done something worthy of condemnation. But I think there was a race to a further assumption that de Blasio was in general viewed as a disliked or hostile figure among the Hasidic community such that piling on him would be viewed as inherently solidaristic. Turns out, not so much.

* Though I do think there is one possible wrinkle I'd be curious to look into: whether non-White Democrats -- regardless of whether they personally are unruffled by the nominee being a White man, look any more or less favorably at White Democrats who purport to be similarly unconcerned. The most straight-forward hypothesis is that it'd have at worst no effect -- after all, the White Democrats are taking the same position they are. But I can imagine a line of thinking where even if they themselves are unperturbed by the nominee being White POCs might find it suspicious for White people to too readily agree -- because, for example, certain racial dispositions that the POCs feel comfortable in assuming in their own case can't be taken for granted among White actors.