Day By Day

Friday, January 18, 2008

Racism and Sexism in National Politics

Christopher Hitchens has some pithy things to say about the practitioners of identity politics -- "people who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan...."

Contemplating Hillary's horridness he writes:

Those of us who follow politics seriously rather than view it as a game show do not look at Hillary Clinton and simply think "first woman president." We think -- for example -- "first ex-co-president" or "first wife of a disbarred lawyer and impeached former incumbent" or "first person to use her daughter as photo-op protection during her husband's perjury rap."

Ooooh, delicious!

But there is a serious point to make:
[S]he is a known quantity who has already been in the White House purely as the result of a relationship with a man, and not at all a quixotic outsider who represents the aspirations of an "out" group, let alone a whole sex or gender.
And regarding that well-spoken young man who has the impertinence to challenge her horridness for the Democratic nomination he writes.

[T]he problem is that Sen. Obama wants us to transcend something at the same time he implicitly asks us to give that same something as a reason to vote for him. I must say that the lyricism with which he does this has double and triple the charm of Mrs. Clinton's heavily-scripted trudge through the landscape, but the irony is still the same.

What are we trying to "get over" here? We are trying to get over the hideous legacy of slavery and segregation. But Mr. Obama is not a part of this legacy. His father was a citizen of Kenya, an independent African country, and his mother was a "white" American. He is as distant from the real "plantation" as I am. How -- unless one thinks obsessively about color while affecting not to do so -- does this make him "black"?

Good question -- one that several older Black spokesmen have raised -- but to the naifs of all ages who hear only Barak's lyrical vagaries it is completely beside the point. They want to be part of an historical moment and nothing else matters.

And that is what Hitchens rails against -- the insane idea that nothing matters but a person's gender or the color of his skin. Martin Luther King warned against such essentialist thought and today we should remember his words. Hitchens concludes:
I shall not vote for Sen. Obama and it will not be because he -- like me and like all of us -- carries African genes. And I shall not be voting for Mrs. Clinton, who has the gall to inform me after a career of overweening entitlement that there is "a double standard" at work for women in politics; and I assure you now that this decision of mine has only to do with the content of her character.
Read the whole thing here.

Hitchens identifies precisely what makes this election important. Neither Hillary nor Obama has ever accomplished anything of significance on their own. They are simply representatives of aggrieved groups and their claims to the presidency are based on little more than their physical attributes. By contrast the Republicans boast a wealth of experienced and accomplished candidates -- but they are all white men. And that is the great test our nation faces in the coming year. Will competence and achievement be deemed sufficient credentials for high office, or will they be trumped by gender and race? Are Americans mature enough to put the insanity of identity politics behind us?

We shall see.