Wednesday, February 20, 2008

We may never escape identity politics....

.... because apparently we don't want to.

It has been a constant undertone of the current presidential campaign: voting for or against a woman, an African-American man, or a white man is a specific political statement in and of itself, regardless of all other issues.

Here's Pop Trash Tart from about six weeks ago:

i wasn’t going to write anything more about the misogyny and sexism directed at hillary clinton. we all know that it’s stupid that she gets judged based on her pantsuits and her wrinkles. but godddamnit, i just have to after reading this story about two lame-ass guys who shouted at Senator Clinton to iron their shirts.

first of all, anybody who claims that clinton’s gender has nothing to do with their view of her (regardless of how they feel) is lying, or in denial. she’s the first viable woman candidate in the history of the united states. whether or not you recognize it, her being a woman is playing a role in your view of her. i’ll say it again: i don’t care how badly you hate her policy- her gender plays into it. Gender roles are so incredibly polarized in this country (especially compared to other democracies) that it is inconceivable that somebody can subconsciously ignore the fact that hillary is not a man. those people who claim to not notice her gender are idiots- it’s kind of like those people who say “i’m not racist, i could care less about a person’s race,” whenever somebody calls them out on their racism....

And not only does everyone have an opinion of Clinton, many people’s opinions are on much more levels than her political savvy. Her fashion choices, her make-up, her saggy eyes, her family life are all deemed acceptable fodder for judgement. Has there ever been a Times article on how tired Fred Thompson looks, or a national outrage that Guiliani has been married 12,000 times? Hell, if Hillary had divorced Bill, she’d be hearing it from the other end on how liberals don’t have family values and how it was her duty as a wife to tough it out. All of the candidates are “hated” by at least some demographics, but nobody is as intensely hated on such a personal level as Hillary Clinton. It’s sexist, and it’s unfair.

Nevermind that before Hillary brought it to the table, healthcare wasn’t even on the radar in this country, much less the forefront. Forget that she’s already been in the White House for 8 years and knows how it works. We should be worried, because once a month she will turn into a red-eyed monster and eat her Secretary of Defense or something.

OK, aside from the fact that Hillary herself drops the gender card herself whenever it seems like it might help her, do you see what kind of position this puts you in? Hillary has been an intensely political animal for 35 years, and a polarizing force on the nation scene for 2 decades. She's been an autonomous actor, not a victim, even though she's played one on TV. (Remember her first run for Senate when she accused Rick Lasio of attempting physical intimidation for walking across the stage to hand her a copy of petition he wanted her to sign? Remember her crying jag in New Hampshire?)

And please spare me the crap argument of a double standard. How many, "Is Barack black enough?" articles did we have to put up with last year? How about those "Fred Thompson trophy wife" pieces? Moreover, if you think Rudi Giuliani got a pass on 12 million marriages, you never listen to right-wing talk radio (which is not, of course, a bad thing in itself).

Of course the politics of becoming president is unfair. Everybody has baggage, and society has its hang-ups. Barack is uppity. Hillary is a bitch. Huckabee is a crazed evangelical. John McCain is rich fat-cat white guy (hell, his biggest problem is that he doesn't have any controversial ethnic identity).

The painful truth: Hillary is losing ground rapidly because her brand of politics and her political baggage. That she happens to be female at this point is neither helping nor costing her.

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