Sunday, April 20, 2008

Identity group politics in dispute

The Democratic party has been wracked by a three-way conflict between those who advocate (a) voting your gender, (b) voting your race, or (c) voting based on candidate's identity group victim status. Camille Paglia, a feminist supporting Sen. Obama, writes:

The scrum is on! Feminist grand panjandrums like Gloria Steinem have leapt back into the arena, while younger women have seized the feminist banner to proclaim Hillary the messianic Wonder Woman, destined to smash the glass ceiling of the presidency.

All women, on pain of excommunication from the feminist claque, must now support Hillary. Never mind her spotty record or her naked political expediency. Any woman with the temerity to endorse Barack Obama (as I do) is condemned as a "traitor" to her sex.

In addition to the vote-your-gender argument, Ms. Paglia writes that Gloria Steinem is also claiming the victim-status argument in favor of Sen. Clinton:
"Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life," trumpeted Steinem earlier this year in an article promoting Hillary in the New York Times. Barriers of race, class or economics are waved away as mere frippery.
While some may regard Ms. Steinem's victim status argument as definitive, other feminists have argued that higher victim status should be given to race. By contrast, Ms. Paglia seems to reject the liberal identity group concepts and focuses instead on issues such as skills and experience:

Hillary has always been a policy wonk, a functionary attuned to bureaucratic process, but she has never shown executive ability, which makes her quest for the presidency problematic. Hillary's disastrous botching of national healthcare reform in 1993 (a project to which her husband rashly appointed her) will live in infamy. Obama may also have limited executive experience, but he has no comparable stain on his record.

The argument, therefore, that Hillary's candidacy marks the zenith of modern feminism is specious. Feminism is not well served by her surrogates' constant tactic of attributing all opposition to her as a function of entrenched sexism. Well into her second term as a US Senator, Hillary lacks a single example of major legislative achievement.

The argument that presidents should be chosen, not by identity group, but rather on the basis of skills, experience or character is likely to cause a furor within the Democratic community. An early example would be this blogpost in which Ms. Paglia is called a "right winger." Of course, as an Obama supporter, Ms. Paglia is far from 'right wing,' but that is irrelevant in places where ad hominem substitutes for thought.

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