Yesterday Conor Friedersdorf was wringing his hands about the state of the right, as he does most days. (His are among the world’s most thoroughly wrung hands.) He was very bothered by a letter signed by a group of Republican congresswomen titled “Dear Mr. President: Your Policies Are Damaging Women the Most,” which he saw as an embrace of the very identity politics that we’re used to seeing on the left, and denounced Pajamas Media for running the letter and Glenn Reynolds for linking to it uncritically.
Reynolds pithily responded with an update reading simply “Conor Fridersdorf is immune to irony.” Confused, Conor asked late last night on Twitter (as well as in update to his post) for someone to explain what that could mean. Since the meaning was pretty obvious to me, I responded with the explanation that Glenn clearly reads the letter not as embracing identity politics but as appropriating the language of identity politics to turn the tables on the left. Conor had more questions, which I punted on, pleading fatigue (it was 2 AM at this point), but since I have a moment now I’ll answer them.
Conor’s problem seems to be that the letter is seriously suggesting that Obama’s policies are especially bad for women. And he’s right, it is. But the subtext is important here. As Conor points out, the Congresswomen are mostly talking about policies that Republicans believe are bad for everyone. The purpose of noting that some of them are disproportionately bad for women, though, is indeed to note the irony: Women are supposed to be one of the groups that liberals are especially interested in protecting. This is not the same as the kind of traditional liberal identity politics which leads to ludicrous declarations that Sarah Palin isn’t a real woman; in fact it is a welcome corrective to that sort of thing.
None of this is to say that identity politics doesn’t exist on the right, or that it isn’t problematic at times. But the kind of right-wing identity politics that can be worrisome if taken too far tends to focus on class, religion, or region. To fret when the right invokes gender or race in the service of pushing back against the left is to miss the mark.