Posts

Hitch on Identity Politics

When we've reached the point in our national consciousness that people begin asking themselves again if Mike Huckabee wasn't the name of that garrulous gentleman who overquoted them on the price of a Ford Taurus, we shall be confronted with … Read More

By / January 18, 2008

When we've reached the point in our national consciousness that people begin asking themselves again if Mike Huckabee wasn't the name of that garrulous gentleman who overquoted them on the price of a Ford Taurus, we shall be confronted with this extraordinary fact: Hillary Clinton botched the opportunity to get Christopher Hitchens to vote for her.

I remember asking my old professor whom he was for in this presidential election. Choice one was Giuliani, who'd at least demonstrated some pluck and ingenuity in making the work of Al Qaeda just a little harder. Choice two was Clinton, who, despite a lifetime of co-sponsoring her husband's falsehoods and using any and all means of getting ahead in politics herself, at least showed that, as a senator serving on the Committee on Armed Services, she, too, wasn't shy about bringing the fight to the forces of theocratic reaction. But the problem with Hillary, as we're all rediscovering again, is that she loves to remind you of every reason you ever had for wishing her into some unscrupulous senior partnership at a third-tier M&A firm.

Readers will have already seen Hitch's brief against her candidacy in Slate. Now comes a broader takedown of a phenomenon I once heard him describe as the "auction of ethnic self-pity" as it applies to the junior senator from New York and her closest challenger:

Mrs. Clinton, speaking to a black church audience on Martin Luther King Day last year, did describe President George W. Bush as treating the Congress of the United States like "a plantation," adding in a significant tone of voice that "you know what I mean . . ."

She did not repeat this trope, for some reason, when addressing the electors of Iowa or New Hampshire. She's willing to ring the other bell, though, if it suits her. But when an actual African-American challenger comes along, she rather tends to pout and wince at his presumption (or did until recently).

Here again, the problem is that Sen. Obama wants us to transcend something at the same time he implicitly asks us to give that same something as a reason to vote for him. I must say that the lyricism with which he does this has double and triple the charm of Mrs. Clinton's heavily-scripted trudge through the landscape, but the irony is still the same.

What are we trying to "get over" here? We are trying to get over the hideous legacy of slavery and segregation. But Mr. Obama is not a part of this legacy. His father was a citizen of Kenya, an independent African country, and his mother was a "white" American. He is as distant from the real "plantation" as I am. How — unless one thinks obsessively about color while affecting not to do so — does this make him "black"?

Unless one thinks that "hope," which is all the audacious rage, refers to making Harvard Law Review, one will admit that Obama has used the public perception of his lineage to great political advantage. Yet he has done so without quite seeming demagogic or orotund about it. (Even Tom Wolfe might tear his white pants trying to pen one of his racist caricatures of this local Chicago wheeler-dealer with the funny name.) And Clinton seemed to care not at all about having a pair of ovaries until she thought they might help propel her back into the White House.

To get a sense of how silly identity politics is (I haven't been immune to its whorish charms, I'll admit) one need only consider what a spectacle John McCain would make of himself if he chose the "Kiss me, I'm Irish" route to the executive. Is anyone even interested in what Upper Silesian wilderness "Kucinich" sounds more like "Jones"?

If the country really were so concerned with elevating a minority or the second sex into higher office, and thus seeming worldly enough to get invited to all the swank European parties, then why hasn't a brilliant high-profile African woman with a lot of vowels in her name not yet been asked to run for something?

"I am Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I approve this message" would satisfy nicely both the audacity and hope quotients.

Tagged with: