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January 18, 2008

Identity Politics Is Chauvinism Under Another Name

Reportedly, Christopher Hitchens has just given up smoking. Apparently, this has had no effect on his curmudgeonly tone, but then again, Hitchens could hardly get more pointed in his criticisms. Today he rightly sets his sights on identity politics and exposes it as a trade for one bigotry over another (via Real Clear Politics):

People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this specter by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of "race" or "gender" alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favor for the identical reason. Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things.

Madeleine Albright has said that there is "a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." What are the implications of this statement? Would it be an argument in favor of the candidacy of Mrs. Clinton? Would this mean that Elizabeth Edwards and Michelle Obama don't deserve the help of fellow females? If the Republicans nominated a woman would Ms. Albright instantly switch parties out of sheer sisterhood? Of course not. (And this wearisome tripe from someone who was once our secretary of state . . .) ...

I shall not vote for Sen. Obama and it will not be because he -- like me and like all of us -- carries African genes. And I shall not be voting for Mrs. Clinton, who has the gall to inform me after a career of overweening entitlement that there is "a double standard" at work for women in politics; and I assure you now that this decision of mine has only to do with the content of her character. We will know that we have put this behind us when -- as with the vowel -- we have outgrown and forgotten the original prejudice.

At the heart of Hitchen's argument is this fact: it is just as chauvinistic to vote for someone on the basis of their gender or ethnicity as it is to vote against them for the same reason. It's reflexively a form of bigotry, the notion that a candidate is superior for these superficial reasons, or that different groups should get "turns" at holding power. The latter especially represents the antithesis of individual liberty and equality and instead vaults identity politics into a system in which elites make determinations of power distribution.

In that system, the real power remains with the elites, not with the symbolic representation of the groups -- and the elites know it.


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