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November 15, 2012 12:00 AM The Most Diverse Caucus in History, if you Ignore History

By Seth Masket

Nancy Pelosi, describing the incoming Democratic House caucus, of which white males make up a minority:

[O]ur House Democratic Caucus [will be] the first caucus in the history of civilized government to have a majority of women and minorities.

The only way this statement is true is if we define “civilized” as meaning “American.” This helpful Wikipedia entry offers a number of examples of ethnic parties that have formed in democracies since the 1800s. For instance, there are a number of Jewish parties that have formed in nations where Jews were distinctly outnumbered (and endangered) minorities, and the parties of modern Bosnia-Herzegovina are almost entirely based on ethnicity. Sweden’s parliament is nearly half female today, and its Liberal Party is divided evenly between men and women. More than half of Rwanda’s parliament is female.

The gender and racial diversity of the incoming Democratic caucus in the U.S. House is an impressive milestone, and one can crow about it without making stuff up. There’s no need for Pelosi to join the long, sad list of American leaders who insist that anything Americans do has never been done anywhere else in the world. To quote Paul Waldman’s wonderful piece from last spring:

Why is it necessary to assert that every good thing about America can only be found in America? We should continue to be enormously proud of the fact that we were the first democracy, but sometimes we act as though America is the only place in the world that isn’t still ruled by a king. Are we so insecure about ourselves and our nation that we have to be constantly told that we’re the most terrific country that ever was or ever will be, and there’s nobody else even remotely like us?

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.

Comments

  • Lee G on November 15, 2012 12:16 PM:

    Nit-picky crap like this is why everybody hates academics.

  • rwanda on November 15, 2012 6:40 PM:

    Good point, but Rwanda did have a machete genocide in which hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in the past little while, so I think it's a bad example of "civilized". Bosnia also had some ethnic cleansing going on in the no so distant past. I would say that ethnic cleansings are somewhat less than civilized. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that those countries are struggling to be civilized

    Sweden is a good one, though. Progressive AND civil. OH, AND ALSO VERY VERY VERY WHITE.

    So what your examples seem to say is that in once civilized country with relatively little genetic and cultural diversity (compared to the US), women are welcome in government. America has a much greater racial and cultural diversity, but we have more than two distinct racial groups. Let's hope that at least partially inoculates us agains the racial cleansings that have marred the histories of the other nations you site as examples.

    Also, when did cultural acceptance of women in government become synonymous with racial minorities? Last time I checked, women were half of humans. I guess this is Nancy Pelosi's gaffe, not yours.

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