Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Black Is Better II: "Identity Politics Is Rational"

Sunday I wrote about Frank Rich's racist and cynical views. First, he is viewing the world through a color prism. Second, he believes all Americans are as racist as he is racist.

Evidently, Rich is in good company at The New York Times. Today it's another white male, Stanley Fish, opining about how identity politics can be a good thing. Well, at least these guys are coming out of the racist closet and airing their views instead of pretending at fairness. Fish says:

We should distinguish, I think, between two forms of identity politics. The first I have already named “tribal”; it is the politics based on who a candidate is rather than on what he or she believes or argues for. And that, I agree, is usually a bad idea. (I say “usually” because it is possible to argue that the election of a black or female president, no matter what his or positions happen to be, will be more than a symbolic correction of the errors that have marred the country’s history, and an important international statement as well.) The second form of identity politics is what I call “interest” identity politics. It is based on the assumption (itself resting on history and observation) that because of his or her race or ethnicity or gender a candidate might pursue an agenda that would advance the interests a voter is committed to. Not only is there nothing wrong with such a calculation – it is both rational and considered – I don’t see that there is an alternative to voting on the basis of interest.
A commenter made the point that on the Right Christians voted based on a candidate's specific religion and that too, was a form of identity politics, yet no one criticizes that. Well, I happen to believe that voting that way is also wrong and foolish. It is nice when one finds a candidate whose personal beliefs mirror one's own, but please, if his policies are repugnant, who gives a flip if he thumps his Bible on Sundays ala Mike Huckabee?

The Right screwed themselves over, as others have noted, because they held on to identity politics of just this sort. Religious prejudice harmed Romney's chances as much as anything. I know this because I had more than one shock-inducing conversation with religious conservatives around Houston. They were voting Huckabee because Huckabee was a good Christian man. To which I responded, "Who raises taxes."

My philosophy in politics is the same as in medicine: Are you the best? Do you want a surgeon who prays but can't cut his way out of a paper bag? Or do you want a surgeon who can cut, and worships Abraham Maslow? I'll take the latter, thank you. My preference would be a world-class surgeon who also prays, but you know what, sometimes we don't get what we want.

This political season has been all about not getting exactly what we want. And both the Right and Left are making moronic choices in candidates because they're choosing form over substance. Black skin is form. Ovaries is form. Bible beating Baptist is form. The substance is symbolic, but politicians will be making real decisions that affect real lives. Christopher Hitchens says:
People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this specter by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of "race" or "gender" alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favor for the identical reason. Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things.

Madeleine Albright has said that there is "a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." What are the implications of this statement? Would it be an argument in favor of the candidacy of Mrs. Clinton? Would this mean that Elizabeth Edwards and Michelle Obama don't deserve the help of fellow females? If the Republicans nominated a woman would Ms. Albright instantly switch parties out of sheer sisterhood? Of course not. (And this wearisome tripe from someone who was once our secretary of state . . .)

On Day 1 in office, Obama or Clinton will cease to be symbols and become the leader of the free world. Mocha skin tone and female gonads mean little in the face of real challenges--except that in both of these cases, these candidates are weak and will project American weakness--and not because of their color or reproductive organs, either. They will project weakness because their policy positions are weak and because they believe America is weak and flawed. Suddenly, their policies matter.

Well, policies matter now. Character matters now. And these should be the determining factors in this election. But with guys like Rich and Fish extolling identity politics for its own sake, we can be sure they represent a considerable number of people who feel just the same.

1 comment:

sandy said...

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