Playing the Identity Politics Game

Mike Gallagher

3/14/2008 12:01:00 AM - Mike Gallagher

There was a scene in the NBC-TV sitcom “The Office” (possibly the funniest show on television) where the dunderheaded boss, Michael Scott, accepts advice that he must declare bankruptcy. The buffoon boss, doing what he believes he must do strides confidently into the main area of the office and bellows, “I hereby declare bankruptcy!”

I’m reminded of that scene when considering the comical ineffectiveness of the political world’s odd expectation of candidates denouncing, renouncing, distancing, disagreeing or otherwise trying to pander to as many people as possible by pretending to be offended by something a supporter said or did.

It would be nice if politicians would act like adults and tell a screaming media to take a long hike off a short pier every time they ask for one of these phony acts of contrition. But since they never do, I suppose we’re stuck with people in public office constantly having to chastise someone on their team for opening up their big mouth.

Since we understand the rules of denouncement in politics, I sure wish we could receive a little bit of consistency on the subject.

When Geraldine Ferraro told a tiny west coast newspaper reporter that Barack Obama enjoys the fortune of being a black man in this year’s presidential race, you’d have thought the longtime Democrat had actually burned a cross in a black family’s yard.

Never mind that a candidate who receives over 90% of the black vote in Mississippi is quite obviously benefitting from the swooning and fawning he is receiving, largely over the concept of a black man becoming the first viable presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

Forget the fact that most of us know that she was only speaking the truth. One of the cardinal rules of the nasty process of identity politics is to never miss an opportunity to label your opponent a bigot.

That’s precisely what the well-oiled Obama campaign machine did.

As Ferraro herself pointed out repeatedly, it was the Obama campaign folks who went positively bonkers over her opinion. They pretended to barely contain their outrage in denouncing and renouncing her remarks.

Being a pro at identity politics herself, Madame Hillary promptly threw her longtime supporter under the wheels of the bus by feigning outrage and disappointment as well.

It didn’t take long for Gerry Ferraro to give up on the Clinton campaign and resign from her official position. But at least she refuses to apologize.

Since the Clinton and Obama folks are positively covered from head to toe with mud by now, it should be fairly easy for Sen. Clinton and her folks to go after Obama on the most obvious elephant in the room these days: Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Slowly but surely, the fact that Sen. Obama refuses to denounce, renounce, object, or even mildly rebuke his longtime “spiritual advisor” and church pastor is starting to be recognized by the American public.

Wright is a man who is your garden variety radical racist, an angry, vicious little man who blamed America for 9/11 (“God d__m America…for killing innocent people” he once famously said), and compared Obama’s upbringing to Jesus at the hands of the Romans (who were “Italian and that means European and that means WHITE” he thundered from the pulpit last year). This is a man who literally stood in his church and exclaimed, “Hillary has never been called a n__ger!”

Some sermon.

And yet, Sen. Obama simply will not, perhaps cannot, offer anything more than a mild type of “agree-to-disagree” style of reaction to this Chicago crackpot.

The reasons given for Obama’s refusal to denounce Jeremiah Wright range from specious to laughable. I heard one radio host today suggest that if Obama were to do so, he’d be “in trouble” for not doing so in the past.

Another said, “For perspective, I certainly do not agree with everything my pastors have said on Sunday.”

What a ridiculous reaction. That’s a bit like saying the local pedophile does a good job of creating balloon animals. This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with parts of someone’s hateful racism. A pedophile doesn’t have any positive attributes; a bigot shouldn’t be forgiven because some of his body of work is okay.

So Hillary, your opponent’s Achilles heel, his reluctance to do the right thing and completely reject Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his pastor and advisor, has just made it pretty easy for you. He has thrown you a giant, fat, slow pitch right down the middle of the plate.

Are you gonna take a swing?