Identity politics devours its children
Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By NOEMIE EMERY
When Hillary conceived her groundbreaking plan to run first for the Senate and then to become the first female president, no one dreamed she would be swamped by a far larger identity-wave, and that a little-known freshman senator—the son of a genuine African—would emerge to run against her. In the six months in 2008 before she went under, the reactions of Hillary and her friends (and her husband) at finding their group-think-plus-victim card trumped by one even stronger ranged from bewilderment to denial to frustration and finally to sputtering rage. Something of the sort happened to Jill in 2014, when she clashed with her subordinate at the Times, Dean Baquet, and Pinch, faced with choosing between them, went with the black male. “Abramson has risen beyond her coauthored book about the empowered black man and the gender victim [to become] herself possibly a gender victim—and look!—they replaced her with a black man. That’s the kind of strange justice called poetic justice,” wrote Ann Althouse. It was Jill herself who had made Clarence Thomas “the angry black man. The classic stereotype of a black man. And now, replaced by a reputably amiable black man, Jill Abramson is exposed to the world as the classic stereotype of the successful woman: the bossy bitch.”
“Jill couldn’t have been replaced by a white male,” the New Yorker quoted one Times staffer as saying, suggesting that only the presence of a black man on deck made her firing possible. So Jill was done in by the diversity principle, which she supported and urged if not pushed upon others—at least until it came back to hurt her.
And what about Pinch, the diversity monger, the backer of women when it was convenient, promoter of all of the feminists’ causes, who now finds their rage trained on him? How could he have thought that this would not happen, when he deep-sixed his paper’s most prominent female, without even a grace note to spare? Didn’t he embrace the whole genre of race/gender grievance? Didn’t his paper dump on any (conservative) male it considered “insensitive”? Jump on any perceived (or nonexistent) slight against women?
Wasn’t it the Times that “flooded the zone” decrying the Augusta National Golf Club and its males-only membership policies for months on end in 2002-03? Imagine Pinch and his paper covering Pinch and his paper as they covered Augusta, and you might have a lynching. In a well-deserved twist, identity politics is finally eating its own.
So what can we say of identity politics, as the whole drama rolls on? First that the groups that claim to speak for blacks and/or women don’t really do so; they are liberal groups that push liberal causes that some blacks and some women support. They were more universal at the start, when all blacks and almost all women were against segregation and the exclusion of women from the business world and the marketplace, but when these goals were won, unanimity vanished, and the usual political schisms broke out. Instead of accepting these splits as healthy, zealots instead saw them as heresies, and their proponents not as political foes with whom one should argue but heretics whom they should try to destroy.
The problem with this is that it wears thin as people begin to see through it and wonder why one woman who brings a charge of harassment is a saint and a martyr, and another, as one Democrat put it, is trailer-park trash. It was the Lewinsky affair that blew the whistle on “women’s groups,” which before it were seen as concerned about women and after it as concerned about Democrats, and willing to trash any number of sisters to help the party succeed. The result is now that in harassment cases in which the facts are uncertain, people on both sides decide if they want the accused man embarrassed, and then judge his accusers accordingly. This has become bipartisan practice. But it does little to help women.
The second thing we can say is that identity politics tend to be tricky, as each group thinks itself the most deeply put-upon, and thus the groups can tend to compete. The status of victim is eagerly sought, and not readily ceded. Some blacks resent the claims of gays to be the “new civil rights movement,” and protest accordingly. In 2008, Obama’s supporters saw Hillary Clinton as another beneficiary of white, blue-eyed privilege, while Hillary’s looked at Barack Obama, looked past his skin color, and saw another insensitive, chauvinist, guy.
It behooves us to say that thus far in the race/gender smackdown, race has trumped gender two times out of two: first in 2008, when Obama took the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in 2014, when Pinch Sulzberger, torn between his two feuding diversity hires, went with his Y chromosome, not with his skin tones, and tossed Jill Abramson off the island. For some reason, people see slavery as a worse fate than being trapped in the steno pool. When push comes to shove in the great war of grievance, the sisters go under the bus.
The third thing about identity politics is that most people think it’s a crock. Honestly, do most people in it believe what they’re saying? More and more, it seems like a con, something picked up for the sake of convenience and dropped in a moment, when power’s at stake. Hillary Clinton and all of her friends believed women ought to stand up in the face of harassment until Bill Clinton was threatened; then they turned on a dime and defamed his accusers. Pinch Sulzberger was all for strong women in the highest of places, until he wished to get rid of his hectoring editor, and quickly and brutally did.
And don’t cry for Jill, and her two sets of standards—one for herself, Anita, and Hillary, to be handled like rare Christmas ornaments, and one for the Kathleen Willeys and Sarah Palins, who deserve to be treated like dirt. Or for Hillary, who poignantly said that women “ought to support one another,” meaning of course, that they ought to support her. You didn’t think she meant Kelly Ayotte, Susana Martínez, or Mia Love, did you?
This is a movement whose moment is passing. Let’s get this show off the road.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.
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