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Guest Post: Don’t Fall for Superficiality of Identity Politics

January 28th, 2008 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

While there are many criteria that can be employed in the process of selecting a candidate, there are some that are obviously superficial. They may include looks, bearing, the way they smile, or the way they talk. These are superficial because they have nothing to do with what the candidate has done, or what they believe and plans to do for or to our country.

Perhaps the most pernicious of all the superficial criteria is identity. Identity politics is officially defined as “political action to advance the interests of members of a group supposed to be oppressed by virtue of a shared and marginalized identity (such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.)

During election seasons, it manifests itself by voters associating with candidates based on identity. For example, women who feel compelled to vote for a female candidate, religious voters feeling the same compulsion to vote for someone of their faith, and blacks feeling the same motivation to vote for a candidate of like race. It’s a very natural thing to feel a sort of kinship with the candidate because of identity, but it also is very illogical.

What more shallow means of selecting a candidate can you think of than by their gender or race? Just because I’m a white male is no reason for me to vote for a candidate who is a while male. If a female or black candidate’s views and beliefs are closer to my own, it’s an affront to logic for me to vote for the white male whose views don’t match well with mine instead of the other candidate that more closely approximates my beliefs. Equally illogical is the prospect of a woman voting for a woman simply because they share a common gender. Even if it’s possible that by so doing history can be made.

The French had the opportunity to vote for a woman in last year’s election. Much to their credit, they instead voted for the man with a promise to repair their ailing socialized state. Even women voted more for the male candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, than for the female candidate, Segolene Royal, opting for substance rather than the shallow criteria of gender identity politics. This was especially perplexing to American media which seem to be locked in a stereotypical superficiality where women vote for women and blacks vote for blacks.

Religion is a little more understandable in the context of identity politics because of the shared values between the voter and the candidate, but even common values is not a guarantee of similar political views in practicality. One needs only to look at Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Harry Reid (D-NV), who are both LDS, or Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and John Kerry (D-MS) who are both Catholic, to realize that verity. They virtually cancel out each other’s vote on every issue brought before the U.S. Senate, their views are so disparate.

It seems appropriate that on the heels of our celebration of the life and contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. to apply the principles embedded in his most famous of speeches. As he declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

If we vote for someone because of the color of their skin, not only is that an illogical reason to vote for them, but we make judgments contrary to the ideals that Reverend King elucidated so clearly, that it should be based on the “content of their character.” The same applies to a vote based on gender, and even religion. For at the conclusion of his now immortal speech,Reverend King declared, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Identity politics can obfuscate in the mind of the individual voter the actual positions of the candidate. The feeling of kinship because of identity association can easily eclipse the political differences if the voter allows it to. The summom bonnum (or highest good) is to vote on principle, policy, competence, and previous performance and experience, rather than on identity. This is true for religious identity, as well, since we are not casting a vote for pastor, but for someone to represent us and our interests based on what we believe to be best for our country.

There seems also to be a byproduct to identity politics that is extremely pejorative. To those who are driven by identity politics, or a sense of political correctness, those of us who vote based on principle and ideology are ascribed as sexist (if we don’t vote for the female candidate), racist (if we don’t vote for the minority candidate), or bigoted (if we don’t vote for a candidate of a different religion). But again, this is a tactic employed by those driven by the superficiality of identity politics and political correctness with whom it’s more important to “feel good” about one’s vote for emotive reasons, rather than making a deductively logical decision based on ideology and character.

A campaign run on identity politics by default is a campaign based more on emotion than on issues, which does not say much for us as voters if we buy into it.

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