Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Defining Identity Politics

Professor Stanley Fish wrote in the NY Times:
You’re practicing identity politics when you vote for or against someone because of his or her skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker that leads you to say yes or no independently of a candidate’s ideas or policies. In essence identity politics is an affirmation of the tribe against the claims of ideology, ...

Identity politics is illiberal. That is, it is particularist whereas liberalism is universalist. The history of liberalism is a history of extending the franchise to those who were once excluded from it by their race, gender or national origin. Although these marks of identification were retained (by the census and other forms of governmental classification) and could still be celebrated in private associations like the church and the social club, they were not supposed to be the basis of decisions one might make “as a citizen,” decisions about who might best lead the country or what laws should be enacted or voted down. Deciding as a citizen means deciding not as a man or a woman or a Jew or an African American or a Caucasian or a heterosexual, but as a human being.
Identity politics contrary to traditional liberalism, but it is essential to today's Democrat politics.

It is very hard to find an Obama voter who can tell me what Obamacare will do, or what good any of his policies have done, or what he plans to do in his next term. So why did they vote for him, and why were their votes so easily predictable by demographics? How did the Democrats get so many non-whites, non-Christians, and non-marrieds to vote their way?

The simplest explanation is identity politics. Wikipedia defines:
Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self-interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people's politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation or traditional dominance. Not all members of any given group are necessarily involved in identity politics.
This last sentence should be obvious, but I guess it needs to be said anyway. No candidate ever gets 100% of the vote of any group. But when he gets over 70%, you can bet that group self-interest is at work.

Mormons voted heavily for Romney, so I suppose identity politics is at work there also. But the Mormon vote was not significant in the swing states, so it was less crucial.

Here is another definition of Identity Politics:
The laden phrase “identity politics” has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.
This definition seems to assume that the social group is some sort of oppressed minority seeking freedom. But some groups, such as government workers, are not oppressed at all and vote Democrat in order to secure more benefits for their particular group.

The rise of identity politics in the Democrat party is a bad sign, and I hope that I am wrong about this. If anyone has contrary evidence, I would be glad to see it.

Fish is right that identity politics is illiberal. Brendan O’Neill explains the success of the illiberal liberals:
2012 could be characterised as the year when the wrong side, the illiberal liberals, were victorious in the wrong war, the Culture War. In America and much of Western Europe, the cultural values of the so-called ‘left’ came firmly to the fore in this war of attitudes that has been waged for 30-odd years. This is a big problem as we head into 2013 - not only because the ascendant values are elitist, censorious and profoundly cavalier about the traditions and belief systems through which many people live their lives, but also because the Culture War itself is not a useful way to understand the clash of interests and moral divisions in twenty-first-century society. ...

The Culture Wars distort reality. They present traditionalism as strong, when in truth it is weak, and the ‘progressive’ side as embattled, when in fact it’s shaping the modern moral outlook. They use the language of left and right to define a shallow clash that was actually largely brought about by the demise of the serious left and the serious right. Worse, they politicise people’s personal preferences, on everything from marriage to whether they visit shooting ranges, which can lead to a new form of politics that is more concerned with ostentatiously demonising entire ‘bad’ communities than with rethinking society or the future. And even worse than that, they warp what it traditionally meant to be left-wing. If being left-wing now means empowering the state to limit press freedom, disarm citizens and dictate which communal values are acceptable and which are not, then all I know for certain as we enter 2013 is that I am not left-wing.
He writes from England, where free speech is in serious decline. He is right about 2012 being a great year for Pres. Obama and the illiberal liberals who support him.

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