Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

A Case Study in Identity Politics

Pundits and commentators have made much hay out of the demographic trends in the Democratic primaries. This is really to be expected given the candidates and their policy. Never have voters had to choose between a woman and a biracial (yes, Virginia, Obama’s mother is white and from Kansas — it doesn’t get much whiter than that) man. Given the haphazard coalition that the Democrats have cobbled together to form a working majority, it would make sense that identity politics would take center stage, especially so in this historic election.

To further strengthen those politics based on race, age, or gender, Sens. Clinton and Obama do not substantively differ on almost any issue. As much as the “we’re the people we’ve been waiting for” crowd thinks their candidate is an outside-the-beltway reformer, his platform is essentially the same stale, center-left package that we saw from Kerry and Gore. This is why the ABC debate debacle occurred; asking questions on the economy, social issues, etc. doesn’t get ratings when the candidates agree on just about everything, not to mention the questions did need to be dumbed down for a network television audience. I recall Ralph Nader calling the 2000 Bush-Gore debates “a cure for insomnia”. The previous Clinton-Obama debates were no different. And come on — voters have had all the time in the world to figure out the issue positions of the candidates and make a comparison. Anyone still on the fence might as well flip a coin.

These wide demographic swings were to be expected given the Democrats’ consistent flirtation with identity politics and the lack of substantive disagreement on the issues. What else are voters supposed to use in order to make their decision given two practically identical candidates? Now, whether these rifts heal or not and the coalition regroups by November is still an open question.