I'm breaking out my P-Mate, because Jonathan Chait and I are engaged in a little pissing match about identity politics. He argued that, in the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency, "the primary mistake was to allow social issues to dominate the agenda" -- namely, gays in the military and appointing a cabinet that "looked like America." I replied that Clinton's missteps on gays in the military and female appointees for attorney general were symptoms of overall problems and disarray in the White House. Yesterday, Chait responded, again blaming the Clinton administration's "mania for diversity":
I further contended in my column that the complaints from minority groups, and the perception that Clinton was scrambling to meet their demands, was the most damaging aspect of all. This, along with "don't ask, don't tell," helped change the primary subject from the economy, where Clinton enjoyed strong majority support, to social issues, where he did not.
Clinton promised repeatedly during the campaign to make repealing the ban on gays in the military a top priority -- it wasn't a demand made by gay-rights groups out of nowhere once he was elected. Sure, gay-rights supporters pressured him to act on his campaign pledge. But at the end of the day, Clinton was in control. He could have told them from the outset that he was waiting six months to tackle the issue, until after he had passed major economic initiatives. But he didn't. That was ultimately his choice -- not one made by "identity groups."