Several of us have criticized the Clinton campaign for relying on identity politics. Mark Lilla’s essay in the New York Times sparked the most fervent reaction. I want to discuss one of the calmer, but no less wrong-headed, responses that seems prevalent among Vox’s editors. Matthew Yglesias, David Roberts, and now Sean Illig have made the point, in Yglesias’s words, that “there is no other way to do politics than to do identity politics.” In other words, all politics is identity politics.

It may seem implausible to attribute a political mistake to bad grammar, but in this case, the Vox writers make a simple grammatical error. They fail to understand that “identity politics” is a phrase in which the adjective is inseparable from the noun. Its grammar is similar to the term “mental error.” One can say all errors are mental, and similarly one can say that all politics is based on identity – after all everyone has an identity – but that is to allow the adjectives “identity” and “mental” a life of their own separate from the nouns to which they are conjoined.

Identity politics is a specific political practice that originated in the new left during the last 1960s, was a subtext of the McGovern campaign in 1972 and the Mondale campaign in 1984 – described in a 1984 New Republic article by Sidney Blumenthal, “Walter Mondale’s Days of Rage” — was unintentionally given new life by Ruy Teixeira and my book, “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” was codified by pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Celinda Lake in the wake of the Democrats’ 2008 sweep, and on the eve of the Clinton campaign, had taken hold among the various Democratic political and policy groups in Washington and New York. It consisted of creating a majority by specifically winning over the groups that had turned toward…