Alex Blaze

No, David Brooks, you're absurd

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 15, 2008 2:59 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, David Brooks, Hillary Rodham Clinton, identity polics, race, women

In case equality-minded people aren't annoyed enough with the media reducing the Obama and Clinton campaigns down to race and gender, David Brooks has to take it one step further and declare himself a the victor in the war between women and Blacks:

The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

One can only hope that Brooks is self-conscious enough to realize that he's one of America's most famous and established "reactionary white male"s and that his statement about how various movements have turned against each other instead of him and his friends should be read more as hope on his part, not any real assessment of race and gender politics.

I'll agree that there has been some abuse of the language of gender and race politics coming from the Clinton and Obama camps to try to out-liberal one another without actually supporting more liberal policy (triumph of rhetoric over substance in American politics, anyone?), but to say that the movements are at each other's throats (not presidential campaigns that can be expected to make such statements), betrays a rather shallow understanding of both feminism and civil rights movements and their histories.

In fact, it's apparent from the descriptions of identity politics that are oozing derision that he doesn't have much of an appreciation for it:

But the entire theory of identity politics was that we are not mere individuals. We carry the perspectives of our group consciousness. Our social roles and loyalties are defined by race and gender. It’s a black or female thing. You wouldn’t understand.

But then feels completely comfortable falling back on it when he wants to push conservative commentators:

All the habits of verbal thuggery that have long been used against critics of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly and Thomas Sowell, and critics of the radical feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers, are now being turned inward by the Democratic front-runners.

Christina Hoff Summers should be seen as a serious "critic of radical feminism", even though she can't construct an argument without fudging research, lying, or contradicting herself, because, I guess, she's a woman? I notice that Brooks picked two "critics of affirmative action" who are Black... just what is he trying to say?

I think it's somewhere along the lines of "I'll pick the Black people and women who should be listened to on subjects of race and gender, call people 'thugs' for not listening to them, and then decry the lack of civil discourse when it comes to people actually trying to promote equality talking about race and gender."

I can't think of a better example of regulating the subaltern voice. Soon we'll be hearing how Ted Haggard speaks for the "gay community."

There isn't anything wrong with these candidates discussing their race and gender and how it informs their politics, just as it isn't wrong on face for candidates to talk about how their religion informs their politics, or for white male candidates not to talk about race and gender and how it informs their politics. Part of the male and white experiences in America, especially in positions of power, is assuming that one's experiences along the lines of race and gender are universal, and therefore not worthy of being talked about.

John McCain, etc., not talking about being white or male is an expression of their racial and gender backgrounds just as much as Hillary talking about being a woman is or Barack talking about being Black is. And it's far more damaging because it keeps important issues out of the spotlight.

Of course, such nuances are lost on someone who finishes his column on why we should ignore identity politics with a statement like this:

Second, this dispute is going to be settled by the rising, and so far ignored, minority group. For all the current fighting, it’ll be Latinos who end up determining who gets the nomination.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight... because everyone who isn't an Anglo white male can't be trusted to vote their politics. Instead they'll just vote for the person who looks the most like them, and when there isn't anyone who does, they become the deciding factor.

And, of course, there aren't any latina women or latino Black people (or Black women, for that matter) in Brooks's world. So much for moving past identity politics.


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This reminds me of Maureen Dowd's criticism of Gloria Steinem's endorsement of Clinton:

"Gloria Steinem wrote in The Times yesterday that one of the reasons she is supporting Hillary is that she had “no masculinity to prove.” But Hillary did feel she needed to prove her masculinity. That was why she voted to enable W. to invade Iraq without even reading the National Intelligence Estimate and backed the White House’s bellicosity on Iran.

Yet, in the end, she had to fend off calamity by playing the female victim, both of Obama and of the press."

Mo Do ends the article saying:

"At her victory party, Hillary was like the heroine of a Lifetime movie, a woman in peril who manages to triumph. Saying that her heart was full, she sounded the feminist anthem: “I found my own voice.”

Why shouldn't she "sound the feminist anthem?" And why is she criticized when she does or even appears to?

Mo Do (God, I so love her!) even tosses in the race issue:

"Hillary sounded silly trying to paint Obama as a poetic dreamer and herself as a prodigious doer. “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act,” she said. Did any living Democrat ever imagine that any other living Democrat would try to win a presidential primary in New Hampshire by comparing herself to L.B.J.? (Who was driven out of politics by Gene McCarthy in New Hampshire."

As I commented on another post:
I'm actually more offended by some of the media presentation of these issues than I am by the candidates.

You know, I still think that Obama needs to jump on the "vote for sexy" bandwagon. Because THAT'S a debate he could EASILY win.

You know what I want to know . . . why no one is saying the Richardson is playing the "race card." He's Latino, right? So do Latino's not have the race card?

No one was saying anything about Richardson because the media, all on their own, decided that there were only two people in this race over a year ago. And that was the way they were going to interpret it.

Oh, and we totally have one. We use it to buy all those banana chips and salsa (ewwww!).

I'm going to surprise you and say that I can agree with the quotes you gave from Brooks. (I have to say I didn't read the whole article, so work with me here...)

The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

I recognize Alex's post that the movements aren't at each other's throats, that's true. However, the campaigns would love to tap into those movements to activate their voters, volunteers and dollars. We know that those campaigns have had long discussions on "How to capitalize on my minority status" and "How much support will my opposition get because of their minority status?"

They will both (and have already!) attempt to invoke and involve their minority groups on their behalf. It's a quickie attempt to ingratiate themselves with future voters in the easiest manner. But after working - not together, but - in concert a lot of the time, these two groups are suddenly going to find past partners turn into "enemies" as they divide around the candidates.

Thankfully, it won't last long. The primaries should put an end to it.

But the entire theory of identity politics was that we are not mere individuals. We carry the perspectives of our group consciousness. Our social roles and loyalties are defined by race and gender. It’s a black or female thing. You wouldn’t understand.

I can really identify with this statement. I'm just as guilty of thinking, "It's a gay thing. You wouldn't understand." and I have no idea how many trans folk have told me that. Or African-Americans. Or Asians. Or disabled folks.

We have divided ourselves into many little groups instead of collectively banding together to demand full human rights. We do tend to carry the perspectives of our groups - most queers are Democrats and most conservative Christians are Republicans.

It's when you hit someone who doesn't fit the mold that these basics break down. Does a black woman vote for Hillary or Obama? What about a conservative Christian gay guy? How often do we hear from our black brothers about the difficulty of blending black culture and gay culture? The whole thing comes tumbling down under the weight of all the gray area.

I'm not advocating the author as having a great system, I'm just saying there's some truth to what he speaks.

Bil~

On the first quote, yeah, it's a question of degree and what we do about it. I just presented it there since he invokes the image of the established, reactionary white man, and if there ever was one, it's him.

The second one is being sarcastic, so saying you agree with it is basically saying you disagree with Brooks.