The Price of Identity Politics

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 02, 2008 1:04 PM
This morning, "Fox News Sunday" featured an exchange between Chris Wallace and Clinton supporter Dianne Feinstein that was remarkably illuminating:

<i>WALLACE: You talk about women. Do you think there's been gender bias in this campaign?

FEINSTEIN: I do. I do. I read the newspapers. I read a lot of newspapers. I read a lot of columns. I'm amazed at the number that are spent on really picayune things about Senator Clinton — her hair, her suits.  And I think some of this just drives toward the insecurity of having a woman running for this office. </i>

Dianne Feinstein is a clever woman.  However critical the coverage of Clinton, she must understand that the members of the press haven't been the ones casting ballots against Hillary Clinton;  Democrat voters are.  So, in effect, she's actually calling members of her party a bunch of sexists (or else, people who are "easily led" by the press, hardly a more flattering characterization).  The problem with the "gender bias" approach, of course, is that it's hard to win over potential supporters by telling them that they'll be deemed to harbor invidious motives if they <i>don't</i> support your candidate.  Not surprisingly, people don't enjoy being characterized as bigots.

No doubt some around Obama (not the candidate himself, who's far too smart to make this mistake) will try the same gambit in the general election -- implying, if not saying, that opposition to Barack's candidacy is tantamount to racism.

But those who engage in identity politics -- and really believe that the mass of voters are motivated by unworthy prejudices -- pay a cost.  Their willingness to blame electoral misfortune on gender or race blinds them to the real problems of their candidates, and what can't be identified can't be fixed.

Anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton has fallen short just because she's a woman -- discounting her air of entitlement, malleable ethics and distinct lack of likability -- is blinded to reality by their own preconceptions about the character of the American electorate.  Anyone who  believes that Barack Obama's  big problem will be race obviously is paying no attention to his radical politics and gaping lack of experience holding high office.

Democrats love playing identity politics against Republicans.  But there's a cost to them, and not just for the Dems' opponents.