Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hillary and Obama: What Happens When Both Play Identity Politics

Surprise, surprise.

Well, OK, not really. You could see this one coming form a mile away (or kilometer, for my European readers!)

Here's a blurb:

Both Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on.

Fair enough. The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

All the rhetorical devices that have been a staple of identity politics are now being exploited by the Clinton and Obama campaigns against each other. They are competing to play the victim. They are both accusing each other of insensitivity. They are both deliberately misinterpreting each other’s comments in order to somehow imply that the other is morally retrograde.

All the habits of verbal thuggery that have long been used against critics of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly and Thomas Sowell, and critics of the radical feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers, are now being turned inward by the Democratic front-runners.

Clinton is suffering most. She is now accused, absurdly, of being insensitive to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bill Clinton’s talk of a “fairy tale,” which was used in the context of the Iraq debate, is now being distorted into a condemnation of the civil rights movement. Hillary Clinton finds that in attacking Obama, she is accused of being hostile to the entire African-American experience.

Clinton’s fallback position is that neither she nor Obama should be judged as representatives of their out-groups. They should be judged as individuals.

But the entire theory of identity politics was that we are not mere individuals. We carry the perspectives of our group consciousness. Our social roles and loyalties are defined by race and gender.

Oh, this is rich, isn't it? Identity politics have come home to roost. (Uh-oh....Is MM starting to feel just a little bit of wicked Schadenfreude? Would you hate me if I did? OK, what if I just said, well, that's what you get, people, for exploiting identity politics against your opponents -- now you can see how well you like it when you're the target.)

I've long opposed the usage of identity politics, and now you can see a lovely reason why. It only creates more problems -- even as it denigrates the individual.

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