Obama, Clinton, & The Perils of Identity Politics
by Bargeron, Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 08:17:07 PM EDT
In my previous diaries I've tried to strike an evenhanded tone of reconciliation, based on the belief that the differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are, in the scheme of things, really quite small. I still believe that, and I am increasingly confident in the ability of good Democrats to eventually come together, even after a hard-fought primary.
There have been plenty of fine discussions here about substantive policy differences between the candidates. As an Obama supporter, I am willing to concede that Hillary has a marginally more palatable health care plan (of course, neither plan is as satisfying as that mythical beast, the single-payer system).
And we should not forget the useful non-policy discussions. Excepting blatant lies and over-the-top ad hominem attacks, I'm pretty sanguine about what some might consider to be sideline issues (Jeremiah Wright or the Clinton tax returns) if, in our discussion of them, we can come to some fuller understanding of the prospective candidates. But one trend, especially in the comments sections, is troubling to me.
A by no means typical, but still common refrain among the more avid Hillary Clinton supporters here has been something along these lines (and I paraphrase):
I am Hillary. I have been passed over and forgotten when it came time for promotions. I have struggled every day with misogyny and discrimination. I am Hillary. I have had to demand and fight for every inch of reproductive freedom I've ever received. I am the hardest working person in the room. I am Hillary.
Never, ever will I vote for Obama.
For me, there is a hundred-mile leap from the end of that first paragraph and the final sentence. Who would argue with any of those reasons for identifying with Hillary? They are strong reasons and constitute an emotionally powerful argument for not only her particular candidacy but also for the potentially huge cultural importance of having a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling.
But then there is that last sentence. Has it become that much of a zero-sum game? Must one hate Obama in order to truly love Hillary? (And I do not seek to single out Clinton supporters. Someone has surely made a similar argument for why they will never support Hillary.)
The implied reasoning behind such a statement is that to vote for Obama would be a betrayal of women. As I mentioned before, I think it is a powerful appeal to pathos, but I also think it is essentially unproductive for the broader progressive agenda. Such an argument is, after all, completely dependent upon an emotional response to accomplish its goal. It would be hard to lay out the reasons why a president Obama would be bad for women, just as it would be specious to claim that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be bad for black people.
I do not expect to win anyone over with this diary. I make no arguments for either candidate here. I ask only that we all take a moment to consider whether appeals to gender or racial solidarity might be out of place in this forum, a place dedicated to growing the grassroots progressive movement in America.
To close, I bring this up only because I reel in horror at the thought that gender and race, two social constructions used time after time by those in power to divide, might this time be so deployed by those of us most committed to the concept of justice for all people.
And I covet your thoughts on the matter.