March 5, 2008

Identity Politics

Filed under: Politics — Bob Gifford @ 9:14 am

I’m really trying to maintain my sympathetic view towards Hillary Clinton, but her campaign is making it difficult. It’s not just that she’s gone negative against Obama with her snarky comments about him being all rhetoric with no substance. If she had lost Texas, her negative attacks would have been the last dying gasp of a failed campaign. What bothers me is that she’s gone negative and won. It takes me back to the Republican swiftboating of Kerry and the swiftboating of Gore back before we even had the term “swiftboating”. The promise of Obama is to rise about the destructive partisan attack politics; how ironic that he is the victim of such attack politics from within his own party.

But what really bothers me is the identity politics aspect of this. From Jonathan Chait:

One question asked if the candidate’s gender was important. 17% said yes, and of them, Clinton won 57-43. So voters who wanted a female candidate outnumbered those who did not. Another question asked if the candidate’s race was important. 20% said yes, and of those, Clinton again won 57-43. So voters who did not want a black candidate outnumbered those who did. Race and gender both seemed to cut in Clinton’s favor — which may not be a shock, since whites and females outnumbered blacks and males.

In both questions, voters who did not care about race or gender split evenly. Clinton’s winning margin — assuming the exits hold up, and it is close enough that maybe it won’t — came from the pro-female, anti-black (or, I guess, anti-male, pro-white) vote.

Gloria Steinem has argued that black men are ahead of women in their progress against prejudice, therefore Clinton is more deserving of the “affirmative action” vote (my term). This is really discouraging on several counts. First, I’d like to believe that we’re all beyond identity politics, that since a woman or a black could be elected President, we can just focus on who should be elected President. Steinem’s argument that we should elect the candidate from the more disadvantaged demographic pulls us back into the race and gender wars. While affirmative action is still necessary in many contexts, I had hoped that this primary race would prove that, at least for Democratic voters, we are now color- and gender-blind.

But if Steinem is right that the electorate is not beyond identity politics, she’s wrong about who is the most disadvantaged. These exit poll results make it appear that when voters choose a candidate based on their race or gender, they’re voting against the black and not the woman. It looks as if racism lives on, even as sexism is disappearing.

Obama’s message is that we can rise above all this. I don’t know if he’s right.

1 Comment

  1. 1. First time reader and I really like the title of your blog.
    2. Racism is alive,l unfortunately. However, I believe that if anyone has the charisma and strength to rise above such ignorance, it will be Barack Obama.

    Comment by Lisa — March 12, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

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