Left, Joshua Lott, Time Magazine; Right: Reuters, Win McNamee/Getty
We Democrats so rarely feel what it’s like to vote FOR someone, instead of giving a grumbling okay to the lesser of two evils, that it’s downright intoxicating to be presented with a good choice. This year much virtual ink has been spilled over how Obama’s race and Clinton’s gender can be liabilities to candidates if perceived negatively; Dahlia Lithwick at Slate called it "a protracted exercise in group therapy." What’s less evident is how those same attributes, race and gender, can be liabilities if seen positively and uncritically.
For voters who share the same race/gender demographic profile as Obama (African American, male) and Clinton (white, female), there is a certain amount of identification and pleasure in voting for someone “just like you.” A big subset of Clinton supporters name her gender as the icing on the cake; some black voters or even guilty white/non-black liberal voters feel good about their choice of candidate, Obama, because his race is a plus.
It’s a cookie, of sorts—a welcome relief that after years of holding your nose at the ballot box, you can finally vote FOR someone.
But I think Republicans see this process of “identification with a candidate” not as a strength, but a weakness to exploit. They are counting on voters to choose a candidate they can “identify with.” And, instead of using fear as a wedge, they will co-opt your cookie to exploit divisions in the Democratic Party.
Here is the race/gender identity politics trap, framed by MSM, to some degree supported by African Americans voting for racial solidarity, and reinforced by many women circling the wagons around Clinton and against MSM misogyny: if we the voters are supposed to break along race and gender lines in our votes for “the black candidate” or “the woman candidate,” then what will we do if confronted by the “black female Republican candidate”?
While we dither and bicker, McCain, who is already the nominee of his party, has sent up trial balloons for his choice of VP.
By far the one name that seems to be snowballing in interest is Condoleezza Rice.
“Not interested,” she claims. But she’s been awfully visible of late. Endorsed by conservative guru Grover Norquist, even. And she would split the vote for people who vote solely on identity politics (both Obama and Clinton have these kinds of voters),
posing a quandary to those who want to “vote for the woman” or “vote for the African American.” I think in the months to come, she’ll gain
currency as a Republican insurance policy against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s race or gender; initial polls taken on April 10, 2008 show a big win for a McCain-Rice ticket.
(A homemade video urging McCain to consider Rice that I found on YouTube.)
Progressive African American women voters have already been through
this bogus “race or gender” pushme-pullyou. Generally, progressive
women of color see through this fake “choice”–are you non-white or are
you a woman first?–as the irrelevant and inaccurate false choice it
is. Women of color and third wave feminists have been at the forefront urging their feminist sisters to vote on a candidate’s record, platform, and campaign performance over the cookie of “all things equal between the two, I’ll vote for a woman…because I’m a woman.”
And the answer to such silly questions as are you a woman or person of color first, as it is now and should always be when
choosing a president, lies in more questions: what are the candidates’
stands on the issues? Voting record, especially on Roe v. Wade? Plan of action? Performance on the
above? What kind of campaign have they run, how else do they show
competence in a POTUS-y skill? Judgment, temperament and character,
matter also, although these are more subjective. Is there grace under
pressure, or is the candidate coming apart at the seams from the long
We here at MOMocrats try to speak to voters who are women with kids—women voting for two (or more), for ourselves and because kids can’t vote—and we urge that issues stay at the forefront. MOMocrats exists because important bread-and-butter issues like healthcare, education, the Paid Family Leave Act, anti-poverty agendas, and so on, get skipped over. But we also care A LOT about foreign policy. A war hits everyone at home, whether or not we ourselves are in the military, or if we the taxpayer are footing the bill for it.
Issues by a long shot, and then, only then, a cookie.
Here’s what Condoleeza Rice brings to McCain’s side:
- she’s undeniably intelligent. And I don’t think we could really describe McCain as an intellectual, could we?
- she’s a conservative darling. Sure, the undercover racists in the
Republican party might choke a little on voting for a black woman, but
enough right-wing old white dudes vouch for her (like Shrubya), and
she’s in like flint. Or look at this way, McCain provides “but some of
my best friends/Vice Presidents are black women” cover for otherwise
racist, right-wing voters to vote for her
- she’s mildly “pro-choice,” which might sugarcoat the bitter pill of John McCain’s decidedly “pro-life” stance for voters
- she has a personal life story that is almost as compelling as Obama’s
- she has foreign policy chops from being Secretary of State that
dwarf John “Sunni or Shiite, wha– ?” McCain’s. Rice’s chops also pound
Clinton’s already thin foreign policy credentials. There’s no way
Clinton could out-hawk Rice–ABSOLUTELY NO WAY she’d win in an argument
about foreign policy with Rice. The way Obama could win in an argument
about the Iraq War with Rice (and McCain) is to argue the illegitimacy
of the Iraq War to begin with–which it was, and he has the moral
ground to do that as a professor of Constitutional law and an elected
representative who was publicly against it in 2002. This is not a
popular war. Democrats can make Republicans go on the defensive to
defend it. But that means we must play the strongest possible offense.
Now I would argue that for Republicans to put forth Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as McCain’s VP is a cynical politics of identity–devised not to describe how power renders some powerless and others more powerful along certain lines of difference, BUT INSTEAD TO CO-OPT AND CONFUSE categories used in liberal multicultural identity politics for other, conservative, ends.
In an Oppression Olympics between a black man and a white woman, a woman of color will win–IF we allow ourselves to be herded along these lines. And how wrong, how cynical is that? Why are we still asking who is more oppressed, when we need to urgently figure out fixes to our problems?
The goal for Republicans? Bait and switch.
Here’s how the bait and switch works: You get some sort of emotional high–a nice, gooey, yummy, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie–from seeing a person of your gender or race in a prominent public position? We Republicans will give you that cookie in the person of Condoleeza Rice as VP but laced with our own reactionary politics AND we’ll misdirect your eyes while we continue to loot the Treasury via corporate bailouts, sign off on sweetheart “private contractor” deals for expensive quasi-military goods and services (Blackwater, Halliburton), and conduct egregious, utterly venal misreadings of the Constitution that lead to torture conducted in the name of the American people. Because that nice yummy-looking “chocolate” in the cookie? Is a more vile stuff. And I’m not talking raisins. It is that toxic.
I’m begging you, America, don’t fall for it. Cookie-based identity politics voting enables the Republican Party to drive wedges into the Democratic Party using superficial, presumed affinity instead of fear. Look how nefarious–it uses our good will against us; it’s another way to entice perfectly intelligent people to vote against their best interests.
African American women
voters who might hesitate to vote for the Democratic nominee (Clinton
or Obama) because now Rice is on the table: Refuse the poisoned
Republican cookie, as satirized by Kristen Moorhead’s extremely sardonic send-up of voting for Rice (for the simplest of identity politics reasons).
White women voters who might hesitate to vote for
Obama because they would have an opportunity to support Rice on the
other side of the aisle–Refuse the Republican poisoned cookie! (Or
worse, white women angry that Obama won the nomination and who’re
looking at McCain, thinking that Rice is an attractive addition to the
ticket: Refuse the Republican poisoned cookie.)
Black men who might vote
against Clinton and for McCain because at least they’ve got Rice on the
ticket: Refuse the poisoned Republican cookie. Well-intentioned people of
all stripes who want to support a high-ranking woman of color in public
office: Refuse the poisoned Republican cookie.
Reject this cynical identity
politics. It’s simplistic and distracting, and if it allows a candidate to be elected who’ll extend Bush’s presidency and pursue a destructive and costly invasion of Iran on top of our Iraq fiasco, then it won’t be worth the short-term cookie. Figure out your issues and fasten down the facts, and vote on
All this parsing of who will vote for who based on race
and gender is tiresome. It feels stupid to paint with such a broad
brush. We are smarter than that. White women in Pennsylvania are starting to re-evaluate their presumed “automatic” support for Clinton (a presumption encouraged by the Clinton campaign), for example.
But I am sure you know one person in your circle of friends whose
support for a candidate is, well, based on the cookie first and
foremost. And I am saying those are the voters Republicans hope they
can peel off from the Democratic nominee. In 2005, Bill Clinton’s former
political strategist, Dick Morris, wrote a whole book about Condi v.
Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race, and he outlines how
Republicans would like to win African Americans permanently back to the
party of Lincoln with an alluring and accomplished candidate like Secretary of State Rice.
I am asking everyone to do something really hard: drop-kick the
poisoned Republican cookie, and urge your friends to do the same. It
might feel good to eat it in the voting booth, but it’ll make you sick
to your stomach later, just like the elections of 2000 and 2004 have left Americans 80% convinced we’re on the wrong track.
Instead, deepen your commitment to issues and vote those, and urge those around you to do the same. A candidate’s politics matters. The political positions of Senator Dianne Feinstein are not the same as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are not the same as Governor Kathleen Sebelius–it’s been repeated too often that Obama and Clinton are about 90% the same on issues and voting record. Question this cliched comparison carefully–humans and mice share 99% of the same genes, but I’ll bet the last 1% we don’t share makes a shitload of difference whether you’re nibbling seeds and running away from cats, or if you’re billing hours, juggling childcare or maybe more than one job, and thinking about what to say in the next parent-teacher conference discussing your kid’s school progress.
In the Democratic Party, we’ve historically had a fragile coalition of African American voters, white women, educated progressives, younger voters, and union members (with a lot of criss-crossing of categories). WE WILL LOSE THIS ELECTION IF
- African American voters, angered by superdelegates’ overturning of Obama’s pledged delegate lead, popular vote lead, and number of states won in a coronation of Clinton instead as Democratic Presidential nominee, vote for Rice as Republican VP out of revenge,
- White women vote for Rice as VP in support of a woman in anger against Obama as Democratic Presidential nominee
In each case, identity politics will be our downfall. If our commitment to a candidate is based in how much they resemble us, we’ll be vulnerable to an equally shallow Republican strategy to poach Democratic voters. I go back to something Dahlia Lithwick said in her Slate article with regard to gender, at least, and its significance in this historic election:
All this talk about women and America has been most illuminating, and I
am now ready for it to be over. Hey, candidates? Enough about us; let’s
talk about you. And what you can do for us.
Democrats will also lose this election if
- Anyone disappointed by the fact that their candidate didn’t become the Democratic nominee votes in anger for McCain
- Anyone who would otherwise vote for a Democratic president instead stays at home
The way to safeguard a progressive agenda and check for the most
liberal candidate who will push that agenda forward is to vote on
issues, candidates’ voting record, and campaign performance—especially as we’re
fortunate enough to encounter more and more diverse candidates in the
years to come. Demographic profiles won’t be enough to certify that a
candidate stands for progressive policies. Just look at John Edwards,
“the straight white guy,” who had a far-reaching and deep anti-poverty
platform which would have helped many women, children, and people of
color who are disproportionately affected by poverty. It’s doubtful
that Condoleezza Rice, lacking legislative experience and/or the political will, would put forth a similar progressive platform.
So far the Rice-as-VP talk is just a bunch of trial balloons. Who knows if it’ll come
to pass. But I’ll bet if you ponder Condoleezza Rice as VP to McCain
now–Rice, one of George Bush’s architects of the Iraq war and herself a potential war
criminal—it’ll be like the chicken pox you got as a kid that’ll give
you immunity in November. Let’s not get played by Republicans. Let’s keep moving this country and everyone in it forward.
If you see Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on John McCain’s ticket, keep driving. There’s literally nothing for Democratic voters there.