Emoting our way to an identity-politics president

Emoting our way to an identity-politics president

Speaking of presidential politics, syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg writes on a major difference between Democrats and Republicans that I touched on recently, namely that Democrats are obsessed with identity politics.

One thing we’re learning from this election: These really are different parties.

First, look at the Democrats. Listen to the discussion about their strategies. Hillary needs to win more blacks and men. Obama must capture more Hispanics and peel away more white women. Both need to fight for “the youth.”

Now look at the Republicans and how we talk about them. Can John McCain win over conservatives? Should he apologize for his support of amnesty or his opposition to tax cuts? Will Mike Huckabee ever make inroads with economic conservatives? Could Mitt Romney have convinced pro-lifers? Were Rudy Giuliani’s positions on gays, guns and abortion too liberal?

See what I’m getting at? If substance were water, the Democratic campaign would be a desert. Oh, I know, Hillary’s a wonk, and Obama’s got enough policy papers to fill the library at Alexandria. So what? Both Obama and Hillary insist there are no major policy differences between them, except for the war and health care.


But that’s it. The rest of their disagreement boils down to who is a more authentic agent of “change.” […] But that debate is almost entirely theoretical, drowned out by the mad scramble to assemble an identity-politics coalition of generic “Hispanics,” “blacks,” “white women,” etc. It’s amazing how complacent the media is in carrying on with this kind of nakedly reductionist analysis. The notion that Hispanics may be voting one way or another for reasons other than their ethnicity seems never to come up.


What Democratic voters actually believe doesn’t seem to be that relevant, in large part because Democrats aren’t voting their beliefs, they’re voting affections.

Obama is “the one” - in Oprah’s words - not because of his policies but because his is a transcendent, unifying, super-nifty-cool personality. Hillary, meanwhile, is staying aloft largely through her ability to guilt-trip female liberals into sticking with her.

There’s no denying the Republican Party has problems—enough to ensure that a Democrat president in 2009 is a real possibility—but what we see is the real emotional immaturity of the Democrats and of a vast swath of the American electorate. Too often the choices in any public policy debate come down to what makes us feel good. Gays want to legally marriage their “partners” so they can receive an emotional stamp of approval from the government, i.e. to “validate their love.” Feminists want to have their anger justified and see misogynistic men grovel. Various groups that harp on racial issues want to make their fellow travelers feel better about themselves in the face of white oppression. Pro-aborts want to feel good about their choice to end babies’ lives. Emote, emote, emote.

Read what supporters say about both Clinton and Obama and you’ll hear about emotion after emotion and not a lot of logic or thought behind it. Neither are Republicans immune to the politics of identity and emotion, but not nearly to the same degree. It’s in not in the DNA of conservatives as much as it is for liberals. But it is the natural progression of a nation that seems most concerned with the foibles of celebrities and an intense kind of navel-gazing that looks at its own bellies and sees the center of the universe.


Written by
Domenico Bettinelli