The Spectacle Blog

Identity Politics and The Right, Continued

By on 1.9.10 | 5:34PM

Conor Friedersdorf responds to my post from Thursday, about whether a letter from a group of GOP congresswomen titled "Dear Mr. President: Your Policies Are Damaging Women the Most" constituted a distressing example of the right engaging in identity politics. (He actually spends most of his post arguing, somewhat fairly, that Glenn Reynolds lets his writing suffer in the service of pithiness. Showing the courage of his anti-pithiness convictions, he goes on about this for more than two thousand words.) He quotes one of our commenters, "Agreed x 2," who writes:

To those of you who think this is not identity politics: Let's say Barack Obama and the Dems explained that "Jesus would support health care reform" and "without this health overhaul, Christians will be hardest hit." Would that be identity politics?

That's a great example, because it's a type of rhetoric that liberals do in fact engage in (remember "Jesus was a community organizer?"), and because -- setting aside the semantic argument over what is and isn't "identity politics" -- it isn't problematic in the same way as traditional identity politics. It may be wrong and it may be silly, but it is not an attempt to enforce entrenched orthodoxy by elevating group loyalty above individual freedom of conscience. Like the Congresswomen's Obama-hurts-women letter, it's an attempt to challenge orthodoxy. It's a subtle distinction, but it matters.

Conor totally misses this distinction, and ends up conflating the Congresswomen's letter with race-baiting. Or at least alleged race-baiting: He links to his own critique of Rush Limbaugh, which groups some genuinely troubling quotes about race with several quotes that aren't terribly troubling (at least not in the same way). This is why, while I'm broadly sympathetic to what I take to be the Friedersdorf project -- urging the right to police itself and avoid turning inward and succumbing to groupthink -- I often find his commentary quite frustrating. He diagnoses the pathologies of the right like a doctor who thinks every little sniffle is pneumonia.

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