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Friday, March 14, 2008

What Goes Around...

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Former Congresswoman and first-ever female Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro resigned from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign today after committing the equivalent of a mortal sin in the Democratic Party: she told the truth.

Ferraro caused this furor du jour when she said these immortal words, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Barack Obama being a smart politician saw the opening and made the most of it saying that Ferraro's comments were " ... ridiculous. ... I think they were wrong-headed. I think they are not borne out by our history or by the facts."..."The notion that it is a great advantage to me, an African-American named Barack Obama, in pursuit of the presidency I think is not a view that has been commonly shared by the general public ... Divisions of race, gender, of region are precisely what has inhibited us from moving effectively forward to solve big problems like health care, energy, the war on terror."

There it was. Ferraro had obviously played the race card, thereby cutting off all further discussion. She lost. Obama won. And the game that liberals have been playing for years to trap conservatives was now being used to collect other liberal scalps instead. They have begun to eat their own. Conservatives, usually the object of this dishonest nonsense can't be blamed for looking on in bemusement.

The Democratic Party and identity politics, the politics of appealing to self-identified aggrieved groups, have been synonymous since the early sixties. Numerous groups, Blacks, Gays, Women, etc. point to a variety of areas in which they have been oppressed and Democratic politicians agree, flatter them, and then attempt to legislate or adjudicate, or regulate the inequities away. This partnership has, in many ways, been highly successful for both the Party and the groups. Democrats have had a ready made campaign weapon and tool and a rationale for expanding government power, "I'm here to fix the unfairness to which you have been subjected. Vote for me against the powerful forces putting you down. I'll give you money and programs." And the groups have received policies, laws, programs etc. that address their "special needs". Affirmative Action and quotas, various monetary set-asides, the edifice of multiculturalism: sensitivity trainings, bilingualism, various speech codes, etc. are all the result of the partnership. The effectiveness of all this largess in improving people's lives frequently seems besides the point.

The incipient problem lurking within the union of the Democratic Party and its constituent groups has always been that in breaking people into such distinct factions, all with their own unique power centers, the day would come when the interests of some would diverge significantly enough from the others or the Party that war would break out. Geraldine Ferraro seems, much to her chagrin no doubt, to have gotten caught in the crossfire.

This election doesn't just pit the first woman with a real chance of getting the nomination against the first African American, it pits the entrenched power structure of the Party, as represented by Hillary Clinton against against a newcomer, Senator Obama. The Party, which has become so certain of Black loyalty that it frequently gives Blacks little more than lip service is now at a crossroads. African-Americans are saying to the party that has promised them so much and to which they have been utterly loyal, "We have toed the line for decades. We now have a great candidate with a great message and a real chance to win. Our time has come." In response the Clinton campaign has done its level best to remind the country that Barack Obama is, you know ... a NEGRO. Bill Clinton, who had once been touted as the first Black President, did his level best before the South Carolina primary to link Obama's campaign to the earlier very ethno-centric Jesse Jackson presidential run. There isn't much talk about him being the first Black President any more.

The problem with identity politics isn't that it precludes obvious, noxious winks to racism like Clinton's but that it removes honest discussion about race, sexuality, gender issues, as well. Everybody becomes scared to death to touch the issue for fear of being called a racist or a sexist or a homophobe. Without identity politics Geraldine Ferraro would have been able to make her comment about Obama. Others could have quite rightly pointed out that while true, her assertion was too narrow. Obama wouldn't be where he is if he weren't Black. But he also wouldn't be there if he were bright, a good campaigner, a good debater etc. But in the current atmosphere, created and fostered by the Democratic Party as well as the "aggrieved" groups, Ferraro's comment was enough to result in her leaving Hillary's campaign.

This Democratic Party war, between its regnant structure and one of its most important constituent groups is unlikely to end anytime before the Democratic convention in August. In fact it is very likely to last well beyond that. Wounds have been opened. Minds are changing. Perhaps the end result of this whole battle will be the end of identity politics. If the Democratic Party finds it no longer works for it, this type of politics may finally die a well deserved death.

Having played this game for a long time it looks like the Democratic Party is finally learning the truth of that old saying: what goes around comes around. It couldn't happen to a more deserving party.

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