Political Hay

The Dirty Secret of Identity Politics

Hint: It can't get us "beyond race."

By 4.30.08

The Democratic presidential primary has exposed the ugly underbelly of left-wing identity politics far better than conservatives ever could. First, it set white liberals against blacks, then feminists against racialists, and now in the last act of the farce sets blacks of different generations against each other.

This much is clear: An ideology that rests on individualism and the raw pursuit of power ultimately cannibalizes its adherents, since no objective principles stand above the parties to resolve disputes.

Under liberal ideology, for all its rhetoric about the "common good," there is none, just fragmented and perceived goods in the eyes of individuals that inevitably clash. The discord of the primary is a microcosm of how liberalism runs the country.

Just as paternalistic white liberals treated Obama's early success as an act of ingratitude, so racialists like Jeremiah Wright now view his potential triumph as a betrayal. "Progress" is a relative concept, relative to the pace of its self-appointed leaders.

The pique of Obama, while less ridiculous than Wright's, is in its own way just as small and individualistic: only now does he object to Wright's outlandish rhetoric as it impedes his path to victory. All the dispute comes down to is: (1) Wright is upset that Obama called him an over-the-hill crazy; and (2) Obama is upset that Wright called him a pandering pol and threatens to foil his election hopes.

Obama's "anger" (interspersed with the usual strained irenic qualifiers) expressed at Tuesday's press conference was largely self-regarding and showed no real honesty, since he still acts as if Wright's extremism is a revelation to him and he fails to take any responsibility for indulging his lunacy -- a trait which America's enemies (as evident in Hamas' endorsement of Obama) have already noticed.

If Obama can sit and listen to Wright for 20 years, they figure, he can sit and listen to us too. Obama's grand talk of "unity" is a posture of nodding at the drivel of extremists until the charade is up.

If the Wright episode doesn't cement his reputation as a radical, it will surely cement it as a wimp, willing to listen to anyone, from separatists to Syrians.

AS CLARENCE THOMAS could have told Obama, there is no transcending race. At least not under liberalism.

It cordons off a race-conscious spot in public life which the Jesse Jacksons and Jeremiah Wrights can perpetually occupy regardless of the lies they tell and fresh injustices such as affirmative action they sanction. Indeed, this whole fracas is likely to furnish the Cornel Wests with new material for paranoid university courses on the subtle racism of 21st-century America for many years to come.

Where was Obama when Clarence Thomas received "lawn jockey" lampooning for his efforts to seek the purest form of transcending race -- his support for a color-blind society rooted in universal moral principles, a government of "laws, not of men"?

Obama was sitting in the pews at Wright's church, listening passively to the same theatrical racist nonsense on display at the National Press Club on Monday.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago," Obama said of Wright on Tuesday, which is the unkindest cut of all, since it is Obama, not Wright, who has changed. Wright has been nothing if not consistent in his buffoonishness.

And Wright is correct in sizing up his congregant as a standard, run-of-the-mill liberal politician. Obama's campaign in the end is not about principles above him; it is just about him and his supposed genius for extinguishing conflicts. Yet the very divisiveness of the Democratic primary contradicts his claim.

He hasn't even united liberals behind him. Perhaps if he wins the primary and promises to throw bones to each identity-based interest group after he enters the White House a new unity could emerge, but it will be a very fragile one.

The Jesse Jacksons and Wrights won't disappear, but ratchet up their claims. If they called Bill Clinton a "black president," they may end up calling Obama a white one.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.