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Commentary by Patrice Onwuka originally published by RealClearPolitics and RealClearWire
The latest fad in the left’s identity politics game is the “black woman” pledge. Democratic lawmakers – particularly white men – are tripping over themselves to tip their hat to the core of the Democratic Party by appointing or nominating black women to prominent public positions.
There are two problems with this kind of pledge: First, it can promote tokenism. Second, it advances loyal partisans who will advance an ideological agenda over those looking for bipartisan solutions for the good of the country.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom made good on his 2021 pledge to appoint a black woman to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. Union veteran and current EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler will be sworn in shortly as the next senator, ensuring that the high chamber has a black woman serving in office.
Perhaps Newsom took a page from President Joe Biden’s 2020 playbook in selecting former campaign foe Kamala Harris as his running mate. Now, Vice President Harris could become the next president of the United States.
Biden also nominated Ketanji Brown-Jackson to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was fulfilling a pledge he made when his campaign was struggling and he needed to win South Carolina.
While some people view this type of pledge as important to ensuring that black women’s voices are represented in national politics and public policy, others worry about the signals it sends.
Not even one month ago, California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee, who is ranking in third place in next year’s special election for Sen. Feinstein’s former seat, noted that “The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election.”
Selecting individuals based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation easily opens the door to criticism that this person is not qualified but merely a window dressing. It’s a criticism (among many) that dogs diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Lee said as much, adding that “the people of California deserve the best possible person for that job. Not a token appointment. Black women deserve more than a participation trophy.”
Laphonza Butler has not held elected office (not necessarily a disqualifier), but her resume reflects a career largely in either organized labor or lobbying. This contrasts with Rep. Lee’s deep ties to the community and decades-long experience in politics. Either way, though, both women would be reliably partisan, and that is the second weakness of the left’s black-woman pledge.
Black women are not a monolith; we don’t all hold the same views despite largely being aligned with one party. Black female voters are more likely to call themselves moderate, not liberal. They are less likely to support abortion than other Democrats, are far less concerned about climate change, and are more likely to prioritize jobs and the economy. Unfortunately, the voting records of the 30 black females in Congress reflect near-perfect party allegiance. Would Butler be different?
Butler is likely to push hard for abortion rights given her work at EMILY’s List.
As a longtime organized labor advocate, Butler’s potential positions on federal labor policy come at a critical moment. Democrats have reintroduced the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which rips right-to-work laws apart and would lead to a wholesale reclassification of millions of independent contractors, half of whom are women – all to the benefit of labor unions.
In a 2021 Elle magazine interview, Butler talked about the need for workplace flexibility to be a present mother as the new head of EMILY’s List. Time and location flexibility are critical to keep many women attached to the labor force as they balance childrearing, caregiving, health concerns, and other priorities. Would Butler champion flexibility for all women by opposing the PRO Act?
The Biden Department of Labor is set to finalize its new rules cracking down on independent contracting nationwide, which Independent Women’s Forum contends will be devastating for women. Would Butler push back on this ill-advised policy as well?
Butler consulted for Uber during its fight with California’s legislature when it passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). This bill reclassified independent contractors, leading to devastating results for freelancers – including the loss of incomes and livelihoods – and small businesses. We can only hope that her time at Uber might influence her view of freelancing to be more nuanced than those of union buddies, and inclined to protect independent work.
Some will cheer Newsom’s pledge fulfillment. The black women, however, who view economic and social issues differently than Butler, have little to celebrate with her appointment.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.