First, let’s define identity politics. I actually like Wikipedia’s article on it, so I’m linking that. Here’s their definition:
Identity politics is political action to advance the interests of members of a group whose members are oppressed by virtue of a shared and marginalized identity (such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and neurological wiring).
Based on that, I think it’s pretty safe to say that 2008 was the year of identity politics. People latched on to their politicians in a way we have not seen in ages – and I don’t just mean on the left (although I’d argue that they crossed the line from identity politics to hero worship on a lot of levels). Palin stirred up a base like we haven’t seen on the right in a long time. Her supporters were numerous and devout.
While using identity politics to get votes is certainly effective, it’s also dangerous. When groups identify with a particular candidate based on gender, race, sexual preference, etc there is a tendency to project personal bias onto the candidate. The “I am a Sarah Palin” and “Yes we can!” chants weren’t an accident. They were designed to bring people on board.
Here’s the problem – people are attaching themselves to a race, a gender – a person – and not necessarily to what the person stands for. In fact, if the polls following Nov. 4th were any indication, most didn’t even bother to figure that part out. It’s called “branding”, and when people buy the brand and not the product you’re in trouble.
My hope is that conservatives don’t fall into this trap. I’ve been asked a few times this week about Smart Girl Politic’s role – and in discussing that, I’ve stated that my hope is that we go beyond the gender identity politics. We will not support women simply because they are women – they must actively support the things that we value. It is not about gender – it is about a small government that holds it’s people accountable and defends the Constitution. Period.
This is so much bigger than race, gender, and generic “change” rhetoric. Vote based on leadership. Vote based on record. Vote based on life and liberty. When we stop voting based on what we want a candidate to be and look at them for what they actually are, we may eventually see some of that change we’re so hell-bent on begging for.