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Jan. 6 2010 - 9:06 pm | 3,602 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

The Triumph of Identity Politics

You’ve heard the old conservative one liner poking fun at the left’s penchant for identity politics — “The New York Times: World Ends, Women and Minorities Hit Hardest.” If the joke has long since grown tired, it’s only because it so pithily satirized a certain kind of liberal orthodoxy. Search back through the archives of the mainstream media, and you’ll see the same world view at work in headlines scarcely less absurd than the one in the joke.

Alternatively, you can see the same idiocy on display at Pajamas Media, a cite created as an alternative to the tired orthodoxies of the mainstream media that turns out to publish work that re-purposes the most tired tactics of identity politics to score cheap political points.

The headline: “Dear Mr. President: Your Policies Are Damaging Women the Most.” What follows isn’t satire. It is a deadly series “exclusive” wherein “nine GOP congresswomen tell the president how to make 2010 a better year for struggling women.” The stimulus bill, cap and trade, and health care reform are the specific issues discussed. What a coincidence that the primary items opposed by the GOP are also the areas where President Obama is being accused of injuring women! It’s almost as if this is a cynical exercise in using identity politics for partisan ends.

If a New York Times editorial titled “Dear Mr. President: Your Policies Are Damaging Women The Most” appeared during the Bush Administration, Professor Glenn Reynolds would’ve mocked it with an Instapundit “heh,” but because Barack Obama is president, and the item is published by republicans at his pet site, he uncritically links this nonsense.

Luckily, Andrew Breitbart has launched Big Journalism today. Surely someone there can hold Pajamas Media to account, and help ensure that right of center sites don’t continue engaging in the most blatant sort of identity politics. Because we’re actually against that for substantive reasons. Right guys? I wasn’t alone in earnestly being against this stuff regardless of its partisan implications, was I? Victor Davis Hanson? Mark Steyn? Will anyone back me up here?

UPDATE: I see that Professor Reynolds has updated his post with the message, “Conor Friedersdorf is immune to irony.” Ah, cryptic retorts! What is the implication here? That the item was posted in jest? That the whole thing is tongue in cheek satire? Or did GOP Congressional representatives and Pajamas Media actually publish that letter, and there is some other irony that somehow makes it not an example of identity politics? Is the irony that the right is now using rhetorical weapons it once denounced — even, I now see, at Big Government, where they’ve included the item in question in their aggregated stories at the top of the page?

Perusing the comments on the item, the Pajamas Media readership seems to think the letter is real and unironic. A Texas Congressional Candidate seems to think so too.

Or is “ironic” the word we’re now using when the right takes things that they’ve always complained about the left doing, and then knowingly does that same thing for political gain? So Rush Limbaugh just ironically calls people racists, and the Congressional representatives are just ironically saying that Obama policies hit women hardest, except they really think they’re bad for women, but not in the same way the left would mean it, or something? Or is it that they actually think President Obama’s policies are great for women?

Enlighten me in language that isn’t cryptic and I’ll update!


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  1. collapse expand

    Mr. Friedersdorf,

    “Identity Politics” is not really a liberal thing, it is all a question of whose ox gets identified. There are plenty of conservatives who go on about how they are oppressed by the liberal elites. Sarah Palin is the high priestess of conservative identity politics. The unfortunate rural, white, conservative Christians, i.e. “Real Americans” are so victimized and conservatives, such as Ms. Palin, are pleased as punch to play this sense of victimhood for all the votes they are worth. I would note that white protestants were unapologetic champions of identity politics, it was called White Supremacy, for over 200 years. It was not just some campaign rhetoric, it was the law of the land, written right into the constitution. It was a crime to oppose white male identity politics, people went to jail for it. To rephrase Simone de Beauvoir, white Christian men are defined as “American” and everyone else is identified as something else. Whenever they try to behave as Americans they are accused of practicing “identity politics”.

  2. collapse expand

    There are two aspects to the irony:

    1) The “hoisted on one’s own petard” variety, whereby the superior position claimed by one’s opponent, in this case, to be the superior advocate for women, is turned against them; and

    2) A more traditional Wilde variety, where it is obvious that the causes advocated as benefiting women are advantageous for society as a whole, so subverting the opponent’s orthodoxy that society is more benefitted by being broken down into smaller competing units.

    Note: You don’t have to agree with any of the points made. No matter how nonsensical one may find the intellectual content, it does not detract from the ironic form.

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    About Me

    Conor Friedersdorf is a writer, a Californian by upbringing, and a nomad at present. Refresh his page often.

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    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Various cities, and sundry spots between them.