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April 25, 2008

Me, myself, and I

Mirror At The Corner, Stanley Kurtz reflects on a phenomenon in the current presidential campaign that's been on my mind as well:

How did an inexperienced senator, substantially to the left of the American public, make it to the top of the Democratic race? Identity politics. Why didn’t Hillary collapse when math and momentum some time ago ought to have handed Obama victory? Identity politics. And why is Obama still the front runner after a series of disastrous revelations that would have destroyed most other candidates? Identity politics.

It may be no surprise that identity politics is playing a large role in the race for the Democratic nomination, but the full extent of its influence — which is massive and in many ways determining — is still not being acknowledged.

Indeed, it's proving impossible to get through this campaign season without realizing just how great that influence is -- whether it's the Washington Post noting the increasing tension between "this country's competing isms" (should African-American women vote for Obama because he's African-American, or Clinton because she's a woman?), or Chris Rock accusing Hillary Clinton's black supporters of hating themselves.

More and more, it seems, it's not about voting for the person whom you believe has the best stance on the issues -- it's about voting for the person who looks like you. It's understandable, but I'm not too sure it's healthy.

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Does that mean the democratic primary will be decided by white men? ;)


I think it's been pushed to the forefront by People magazine and the media. How can people be so easily influenced by a rock star or celebrity? Are they going to wake up some day and say what happened to this beautiful glorious country we used to have? I have heard young people say they voted for Bill Clinton because he was handsome. Sick or what?

dennis babish

I heard Sherri Shepherd, from The View, state that she is voting for Obama because he looks like her, meaning he's black.
Not a very good reason to vote for anyone.
We are quickly becoming an uneducated society when it comes to electing officials.

Gina Dalfonzo

Matt -- you bring up an interesting point. Part of the fallout from all this is that white men, at least to a certain extent, get put in the bind of knowing that they'll be accused of hatred (of one group or another) unless they vote for the person who DOESN'T look like them.


The whole thing is really fascinating to watch.

Katharine Eastvold

If all you mean by "identity politics" is blacks voting for a black man, or women voting for a woman, then I completely agree with you. One ought to vote for the best candidate. But I think all the discussion that's gone on in the media about race and gender is healthy (okay, not ALL of what has been said - but the fact that there is a conversation ongoing.) The simple fact that we have not yet had a female or African-American president, and that Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama are both making history, I think warrants a great deal of attention. How did we get to this point? Why did we not get here sooner? How are we reacting (and how should be react) to serious presidential contenders who don't look like what we're accustomed to candidates looking like? No matter whom we vote for, I think those are important questions.

If one were to have the opinion (which I do not, but let's just pursue the hypothetical) that both Democratic candidates are equally qualified and that there are no relevant differences between the two, I guess you could end up with a situation in which one decides based purely on race or gender. Whether that results in voting for the person who looks most like you is another question, though. For instance, I am a woman, but I might (in the above hypothetical) decide that it would be better for the country to have its first African-American president now, rather than its first female president, and on that basis I might vote for Barack Obama. Or a black woman might vote for Sen. Clinton based on the mirror image of that reasoning. Or a white man might go either way.

In any case, while I don't think "identity politics" cause (or should cause) people to vote for candidates who look like them, the associated questions are still worth asking and, I think, will go a long way toward helping our nation defy racism and sexism.


Gina Dalfonzo

The discussion is indeed healthy and important. But what worries me is (1) a knee-jerk tendency among some people to base their vote solely on the fact that a person looks like them, and (2) a tendency among some to judge others for not voting for the person that looks like them. Those are the things that I think are unhealthy.

James Willis

I bleieve what is really unhealthy is that selecting a president in our current media climate is little more than a popularity contest. There are checks and balances in our government and to some degree in politics, but there are non in the media.


If people really voted their appearance, wouldn't all presidential candidates be overweight?

So actually they're voting on only one aspect of their appearance. And that is indeed unhealthy.


Oh, and one of the US Senate candidates from Oregon is running ads that point out the fact that he's very short. It's all part of his tongue-in-cheek "I'm not like other politicians" campaign.

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