November 19, 2008


The Identity Blame Game: If the Democratic coalition falls apart, it won't be because women and people of color spoke up for their interests. (Ann Friedman, November 18, 2008, American Prospect)

In the context of this debate about Cabinet appointments, "identity politics" is more or less derisive shorthand for "women, people of color, immigrants, gay people speaking up for themselves." But if not now, when are we supposed to raise these issues? After the decisions have been made? People who have traditionally been cut off from the highest avenues of power are well within their rights -- and, I'd argue, responsibilities -- to demand a seat at the table, before appointments have been made. I'm not going to retread the arguments for why diversity is important. I will say, however, that there is rarely the right person for any given position -- most jobs could be done competently by any number of people, and some of those people are no doubt women and people of color. Pointing out this fact must not be seen as threatening or petty but as productive and necessary.

Another frequently expressed concern is that Obama just can't win when he appoints a nonwhite dude -- some minority group will always be upset. J.P. Green at the Democratic Strategist warned recently that whether Obama chooses Hillary Clinton or Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico for secretary of state, "either way there will be much grumbling in the short run" -- from women, presumably, if he picks Richardson and from Latinos if he chooses Clinton. But in all the calls I've seen for a "Cabinet that looks like America," I have yet to see a person of color say they would take it as an affront if a white woman were appointed. And like most women who have called on Obama to consider and appoint women, I am equally interested in seeing Obama consider and appoint people of color. As far as I can tell, we're all united against a Cabinet packed with the same old white guys.

When outside observers predict that all of the vocal women, gay people, and people of color in the Democratic Party will turn against each other if Obama makes the wrong appointment, they are reinforcing the idea that these are distinct categories -- which they're clearly not (last time I checked, there were queers of color, women of color, queer women, I could go on and on ...) -- and that these categories of people are in direct competition. This is simply not true.

Then why did one Democrat interest group defeat another in the Proposition 8 vote? As that election result showed, the Demcr5atic coalition is too unnatural a thing to hold together in the absence of GOP animus -- real and perceived -- towards people of color.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 19, 2008 10:18 PM
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