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   Author  Topic: The Perils of Identity Politics (Hitchens at his best ;)  (Read 1435 times)
Walter Watts
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The Perils of Identity Politics (Hitchens at his best ;)
« on: 2008-01-29 01:10:12 »
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Hitchens at his best....
--Walter
-----------------------------------
The Wall Street Journal
January 18, 2008
COMMENTARY

The Perils of Identity Politics

By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

Let us give hearty thanks and credit to Rudy Giuliani, who has never by word or gesture implied that we would fracture any kind of "ceiling" if we elected as chief executive a man whose surname ends in a vowel.

Yet actually, it would be unprecedented if someone of Italian descent became the president of the United States and there was a time -- not long ago at that -- when the very idea would have aroused considerable passion. Now that it doesn't, is it not possible to think that that very indifference is the real "change"?

I recall thinking, when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman on a major-party ticket in 1984, that she would also, if elected, be the first vowel-ending Veep. Indeed, in San Francisco for the Democratic convention that year, I listened to the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti muse over drinks on the possibility of a future Cuomo-Ferraro "all wop" ticket.

The fact that these were now joking words and not fighting words struck me as happily suggestive. (I also thought that a President Walter Mondale would be a very high price to pay for having the first female vice president, and that President Mario Cuomo would be an even higher price to pay to prove that we no longer held any rooted prejudice against the descendants of Mediterranean immigrants.)

People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this specter by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of "race" or "gender" alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favor for the identical reason. Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things.

Madeleine Albright has said that there is "a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." What are the implications of this statement? Would it be an argument in favor of the candidacy of Mrs. Clinton? Would this mean that Elizabeth Edwards and Michelle Obama don't deserve the help of fellow females? If the Republicans nominated a woman would Ms. Albright instantly switch parties out of sheer sisterhood? Of course not. (And this wearisome tripe from someone who was once our secretary of state . . .)

Those of us who follow politics seriously rather than view it as a game show do not look at Hillary Clinton and simply think "first woman president." We think -- for example -- "first ex-co-president" or "first wife of a disbarred lawyer and impeached former incumbent" or "first person to use her daughter as photo-op protection during her husband's perjury rap."

One might come up with other and kinder distinctions (I shall not be doing so) but the plain fact about the senator from New York is surely that she is a known quantity who has already been in the White House purely as the result of a relationship with a man, and not at all a quixotic outsider who represents the aspirations of an "out" group, let alone a whole sex or gender.

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"?

Far from taking us forward, this sort of discussion actually keeps us anchored in the past. The enormous advances in genome studies have effectively discredited the whole idea of "race" as a means of categorizing humans. And however ethnicity may be defined or subdivided, it is utterly unscientific and retrograde to confuse it with color. The number of subjective definitions of "racist" is almost infinite but the only objective definition of the word is "one who believes that there are human races."

For years, I declined to fill in the form for my Senate press credential that asked me to state my "race," unless I was permitted to put "human." The form had to be completed under penalty of perjury, so I could not in conscience put "white," which is not even a color let alone a "race," and I sternly declined to put "Caucasian," which is an exploded term from a discredited ethnology. Surely the essential and unarguable core of King's campaign was the insistence that pigmentation was a false measure: a false measure of mankind (yes, mankind) and an inheritance from a time of great ignorance and stupidity and cruelty, when one drop of blood could make you "black."

I remember going to several of the mass events generated by Colin Powell's memoirs a few years ago, and being very touched by the eagerness with which young and old "white" people hoped he would give them the chance to elect (what would in fact have been) our first West Indian president. It was all book-tour hype as it turned out -- I could have told you that then -- but now it has resurfaced in a similarly nave way.

Not to dampen any parade, but if one asks if there is a single thing about Mr. Obama's Senate record, or state legislature record, or current program, that could possibly justify his claim to the presidency one gets . . . what? Not much. Similarly lightweight unqualified "white" candidates have overcome this objection, to be sure, but what kind of standard is that?

I shall not vote for Sen. Obama and it will not be because he -- like me and like all of us -- carries African genes. And I shall not be voting for Mrs. Clinton, who has the gall to inform me after a career of overweening entitlement that there is "a double standard" at work for women in politics; and I assure you now that this decision of mine has only to do with the content of her character. We will know that we have put this behind us when -- as with the vowel -- we have outgrown and forgotten the original prejudice.

Mr. Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of "No One Left To Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton" (Verso, 2000).
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Walter Watts
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Re:The Perils of Identity Politics (Hitchens at his best ;)
« Reply #1 on: 2008-01-29 06:47:29 »
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Even though I rather agree with Walter, that Hitchens does not get any better than this, a more accurate title may have been, "Slithery Hitchens throws a hissy (replete with self provided poison)."

Of course, Hitchens is quite right about the two of the candidates for the corporate party which he spent most of the article addressing. A pity he misses the opportunity to jump on the heads of other candidates - like the loathsome, belligerent, self-aggrandizing Giuliani. For similar opinions could be written about every candidate, with the exceptions only of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, in this farce, where Americans pretend to choose a government to represent them and the candidates pretend that it matters which one is chosen. While the media which we have earned as thoroughly as the government we have earned, carefully omits to mention candidates who don't represent the corporate perspective, and so Hitchens and his owners conspire to act as a club, the better to belabor the heads of any who would attempt to think against the machine.

Just imagine. Hitchens could have written about a country that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, even before paying for its futile wars of aggression. He could have written about a country that spends as much again on just the futile wars of aggression on two strips of dusty earth as the next two countries, Russia and China, are forced to spend on their military machines in response to our unaffordable extravagances. He could have written about how our military machine is choking on the operating hours and the sand that has gotten into its gears and which has largely destroyed its useful equipment - to say nothing of its men. He could have written about a country that thinks that money spent caring for its citizens, including the remnants of the people it chewed up for its wars of aggression, wars which it once thought the greatest possible crime,  is money wasted.

Hitchens might easily have observed that when we tricked the USSR into attempting to outspend just us on military excesses, that it bankrupted her, caused a 15 year depression, and lead directly to a collapse in standards of living throughout her territories and for all her peoples. A compound set of failures that some foolish writers then pontificated proved the failure of their system of government, Communism, rather than murder by economics. Now we are doing exactly the same thing to ourselves, apparently without external assistance, while helping our erstwhile enemy soar on the value of his oil which we have made invaluable. Hitchens could have written a piece blaming our system's impending failure upon our republican form of government, or perhaps accusing "liberty and freedom" as we have made those phrases the centerpiece of our "newspeak" as we remove their meaning from the minds of men. Hitchins could have rambled on, about his and the media's role in enabling the current shambles and our now near inevitable collapse or a myriad of other issues.

Hitchens might easily have attempted to write about some of these matters whose weightiness might match his ponderous turn of phrase. Then again, if he had attempted to address concrete issues with factual responses, he wouldn't be Hitchens.

Thanks Walter

Hermit
« Last Edit: 2008-01-29 09:43:11 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
Walter Watts
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Re:The Perils of Identity Politics (Hitchens at his best ;)
« Reply #2 on: 2008-01-29 16:46:13 »
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Quote from: Hermit on 2008-01-29 06:47:29   

Even though I rather agree with Walter, that Hitchens does not get any better than this, a more accurate title may have been, "Slithery Hitchens throws a hissy (replete with self provided poison)."

Of course, Hitchens is quite right about the two of the candidates for the corporate party which he spent most of the article addressing. A pity he misses the opportunity to jump on the heads of other candidates - like the loathsome, belligerent, self-aggrandizing Giuliani. For similar opinions could be written about every candidate, with the exceptions only of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, in this farce, where Americans pretend to choose a government to represent them and the candidates pretend that it matters which one is chosen. While the media which we have earned as thoroughly as the government we have earned, carefully omits to mention candidates who don't represent the corporate perspective, and so Hitchens and his owners conspire to act as a club, the better to belabor the heads of any who would attempt to think against the machine.

Just imagine. Hitchens could have written about a country that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, even before paying for its futile wars of aggression. He could have written about a country that spends as much again on just the futile wars of aggression on two strips of dusty earth as the next two countries, Russia and China, are forced to spend on their military machines in response to our unaffordable extravagances. He could have written about how our military machine is choking on the operating hours and the sand that has gotten into its gears and which has largely destroyed its useful equipment - to say nothing of its men. He could have written about a country that thinks that money spent caring for its citizens, including the remnants of the people it chewed up for its wars of aggression, wars which it once thought the greatest possible crime,  is money wasted.

Hitchens might easily have observed that when we tricked the USSR into attempting to outspend just us on military excesses, that it bankrupted her, caused a 15 year depression, and lead directly to a collapse in standards of living throughout her territories and for all her peoples. A compound set of failures that some foolish writers then pontificated proved the failure of their system of government, Communism, rather than murder by economics. Now we are doing exactly the same thing to ourselves, apparently without external assistance, while helping our erstwhile enemy soar on the value of his oil which we have made invaluable. Hitchens could have written a piece blaming our system's impending failure upon our republican form of government, or perhaps accusing "liberty and freedom" as we have made those phrases the centerpiece of our "newspeak" as we remove their meaning from the minds of men. Hitchins could have rambled on, about his and the media's role in enabling the current shambles and our now near inevitable collapse or a myriad of other issues.

Hitchens might easily have attempted to write about some of these matters whose weightiness might match his ponderous turn of phrase. Then again, if he had attempted to address concrete issues with factual responses, he wouldn't be Hitchens.

Thanks Walter

Hermit

While not disagreeing with anything in your response Hermit, and in full agreement that Hitchens could have written on [insert your favorite subject here], he didn't.

Care to critique what he did write?

Walter
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Walter Watts
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Re:The Perils of Identity Politics (Hitchens at his best ;)
« Reply #3 on: 2008-01-29 18:46:10 »
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[Walter Watts] While not disagreeing with anything in your response Hermit, and in full agreement that Hitchens could have written on [insert your favorite subject here], he didn't.

[Walter Watts] Care to critique what he did write?

[Hermit] I did Walter, I did. I even tried, quite successfully I'm told, to parody his style. I'm glad it so appealed to you that you want more of it. But really, there is only so much that can be said about Hitchins. And I think I have.

Fondest Regards

Hermit

« Last Edit: 2008-01-29 18:49:17 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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