The pillars of American liberalism -- the Democratic Party, the universities and the mass media -- are obsessed with biological markers, most particularly race and gender. They have insisted, moreover, that pedagogy and culture and politics be just as seized with the primacy of these distinctions and with the resulting "privileging" that allegedly haunts every aspect of our social relations.I'm off to "obsess" about race and gender at a conference about honoring the "obsession" with race and gender. I think the race and gender issues are real — even if they are often misperceived or exaggerated. Krauthammer doesn't quite say if he thinks these issues are mere delusions. His point is that they wreak havoc on a political campaign.
They have gotten their wish. This primary campaign represents the full flowering of identity politics. It's not a pretty picture. Geraldine Ferraro says Obama is only where he is because he's black. Professor Orlando Patterson says the 3 a.m. phone call ad is not about a foreign policy crisis but a subliminal Klan-like appeal to the fear of "black men lurking in the bushes around white society."
Good grief. The optimist will say that when this is over, we will look back on the Clinton-Obama contest, and its looming ugly endgame, as the low point of identity politics, and the beginning of a turning away. The pessimist will just vote Republican.
Barack Obama had positioned himself as someone who transcended race, and he thrilled us with the hope that we could all transcend race with him. If we fell for him, it had to be in part because we could see that he was black, but we weren't talking about that, and it was working because he didn't and we didn't. But the Hillary Clinton campaign couldn't let us dream our shared dream. She had to rouse us. It was her only hope, and her dream was worth more to her than the great coming together over Barack Obama.
But it wasn't just Hillary driving the wedge into the happy good feelings of the coalescing Democrats. Krauthammer portrays the Republican Party as the passive beneficiary of ugliness on the Democratic side. But it's not as if the Republicans are above the fray. They are promoting the chaos. Now, I know they'll say that the opportunity only exists because the Democrats have so deeply invested themselves in identity politics, and indeed, this is the subtext of Krauthammer's column. The notion seems to be that the Democrats would have been better off if — like Republicans! — they'd ignored the race and gender issues all along.