Beyond Identity Politics

September 1, 2008

Early on in this year's campaign, when there were still several Democratic hopefuls in the running, I remember more actively looking for "shout-outs" to the Asian Americans, and being disappointed when I didn't find them. 

But I've stopped doing that for months now, I realized. To the point where, if in Obama's nomination acceptance speech the word "Asian" didn't appear once, to my own surprise, I didn't really mind. Okay fine, I noticed -- but even so, oddly it didn't feel to me as though we were being forgotten. 

It was clear enough that he was addressing many different audiences at different points -- as if in a big room, he was looking first at you, and then shifted with his next point to address the person three seats over. And he never called us by name, granted -- but I'd wager he addressed us just the same.

True, he grew up in some Asian-heavy places. True, members of his close family are Asian. True, there was a great slate of Asian American representation at the convention (see Angry Asian Man for some nice run-down).  And all that is pretty exciting, I will admit. But that's not why he has my vote, and not why I felt addressed -- and heard -- in his speech.

It was the issues I worry about, the things I want this country to be, that I heard him saying he wants, too. It was the principles I stand for, and not the census categories I am, that he called by name.

And yes, it is wild beyond imagining that we have the opportunity to elect a person of color for president for the first time. But that's not why it's wonderful -- remember Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Viet Dinh and the awfulness of having someone from our own communities do us such grievous harm.

So ladies, please remember Condoleezza Rice before you throw in with Sarah Palin. Remember that Palin thinks global warming is not "man-made"; that she wants creationism taught in public schools; that she opposes gay marriage; and yes, that she would make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape or incest. Sure, she's a woman. But we need to move beyond the simple-minded allegiances of identity politics here. Were she and McCain (or quite likely, without McCain) to come into power, it would mean for us (women and country) one step forward -- four decades back.


erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



In Obamas defense, His Chinese brother-in-law and Sister spoke at his convention. Also, his Chinese brother-in-law was with him on stage and with the family through out the whole campaign, so Asian were vivid physically more than verbally.
thanks for your response, "You." actually, though, Obama doesn't need any defending here; my post very much supports his approach as being, if anything, not about heavy-handed "pandering" to us. which it would be, for instance, if he chose a terrifyingly unqualified Asian American for VP.
Erin,great post. Do you mind if i share it?
Barack Obama is a political fraud--regardless of what his identity is. There have been many analyses of his politics (see below), and they demonstrate that he is cut from the same cloth as that of Hillary Clinton and shares much in common with John McCain.In fact, one of the reasons why Obama is being promoted is precisely because of his multiracial background. The American ruling class hopes to give a "multicultural" face-lift to American Imperialism by promoting a Black guy as president. This is "identity politics" as practiced in the most cynical form by White America.Many supposed progressives in the USA still embrace Obama's vacuous catchphrases about "change that you can believe in" and refuse to see beyond the media facade. But if Obama is selected, these illusions will be shattered sooner or later."Barack Obama and the 'End' of Racism." Differences Between Clinton, Obama Sullivan on Obama: The “Best Face” For Imperialism two faces of Barack Obama’s Denver speech: Populist demagogy in the service of militarism
hi "questioner" -- absolutely, share away. and thanks for reading.
palin is whack, and so is the choice (whoever made it) to pick her for the running. hillary supporters are not that stupid to just vote for any woman candidate out there thank you very much simply because she's female. that's all i gotta say.
IXY, get off the drugsAll politicians are frauds, you just have to choose the lesser of all evils and we know its Barrack.Mccain, what a cook. He chooses a female VP to intercept the fustrated female Hillary voters. This man is clinging on to life and he trust this untested Governor to lead our country if he croaks.
"Please": You have a very articulate argument ... worthy of a Fox News/CNN shill ranting at the top of his lungs. Perhaps, it's you that are on drugs if you believe that the tired "lesser evil" argument holds any water. Every selection year, the Democrats and their mouthpieces always offer this lame rationale.In any case, Obama is NOT the lesser evil. He is the SAME evil as the rest, only with a different rhetorical mask and marketing campaign.On Iraq, Biden Is Worse than McCain they say, there's a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans.The Democrats endorse the "Global War on Terrorism": Obama "goes after" Osama
thanks for your responses, Ixy. it's good to know that we're not just preaching to the converted on this blog -- as happens more often than not when it comes to talking politics. each of us rails to our friends in our respective camps, and feels smug when we all agree.i hear what you're saying about there being not enough difference between the establishment parties, and that "lesser evil" is a pretty sad way to vote. but let me push you on a few points.for one, to characterize Obama as a fraud doesn't make much sense. after all, he's running for president -- i.e., executive head of the US government -- not for Commander-in-Chief of the Communist Revolution. the sites you reference essentially fault him (and awfully shrilly, at that) for not being "radical"; but no radical runs for president, and certainly no radical can have a hope in hell of winning. those of us who support Obama despite having more progressive politics than he espouses are not deluded into thinking he's Fidel or Che; but nor do we think the differences between McCain and Obama are so slight as to be inconsequential.did you listen to the RNC speeches today? can you really hear them accuse the Democrats of being "afraid" to use the term "Islamic terrorism" because it would offend "only" the "terrorists" and think, "There's no difference here"? Palin hit the fear-mongering hard, when she threatened the public with the idea of "reduc[ing] the strength of America in a dangerous world." can you place that beside Clinton's exhortation that the US lead by the "power of our example" and not the "example of our power," and write off the balance?the higher standards for politics that progressives often hold play a vital role in advancing the edge of a society's conscience. but the self-styled radicals and more-progressive-than-thou types who refused to vote Democrat 8 years ago had a lot to do with handing us W in the first place; and the people who have lost "more" civil liberties, suffered "more" poverty, or lost "more" family than they might have under a Democratic presidency in the last 8 years -- those who want a revolutionary or nothing have a lot to answer for for that. if a Republican wins again this time and you haven't tried to prevent it because he's not "more evil" enough -- know that what ensues will be on your hands, too.
IXYI just dont see John McCain bringing 21st century solutions to 21st century problems. He qoutes, "I do not understand the economy and how it works" well thats evident. Rudolph Juliani is still living in the wake of 9/11. Rudolph newsflash, 9/11 happened 7 years ago.Every time John McCain is faced with difficult questions, he uses the fact that he was a POW to abandon giving clear answers and his own viewpoints to the public. Enough already with the POW stuff, we honor your service, but thats doesnt qaulify you for President.Electing John McCain would be a detriment to our national security. Did you see how the world responded to Barrack during his European tour. Muslims, Christians and Jews. The writing is on the wall, pick the winning teamIxy, your jeliousy shows, get off that RNC crack and smell the coffee.
Hello Erin:- When you say that describing Obama as a fraud doesn't make sense because he's not running as a radical, this misses the point, I believe. The thing about Obama is that his campaign is based upon promising "change that you can believe in." This is key to his popular appeal, especially for so-called progressives who are tired of 8 years of Cheney/Bush. But judged upon his OWN campaign promise, Obama is a fraud.If one looks at his actual record and positions, Obama does not offer significant change of any type. He offers a political agenda that at base has much in common with his rivals. In some cases, as with Joseph Biden's position on the Iraq War, Obama is WORSE than McCain.What the Obama campaign offers is sophisticated public relations, media hype, and feel-good slogans to disguise the reality that he's serving the SAME political interests as the other Republicrats.In fact, I would have less problem with Obama if he were more honest and proclaimed that his campaign is about promoting "Cosmetic Change that You Can Believe In."- "but the self-styled radicals and more-progressive-than-thou types who refused to vote Democrat 8 years ago had a lot to do with handing us W in the first place; and the people who have lost "more" civil liberties, suffered "more" poverty, or lost "more" family than they might have under a Democratic presidency in the last 8 years --those who want a revolutionary or nothing have a lot to answer for for that. if a Republican wins again this time and you haven't tried to prevent it because he's not "more evil" enough -- know that what ensues will be on your hands, too."Come on, Erin. This kind of accusatory finger pointing/scaremongering is typical of thoseDemocrat Party shills who can't come up with a positive reason why people should support their party. I'm sure that you are better than that.I also disagree with the premise of your argument that had the Democrats been in the White House,things would not be as bad. If one checks out the record of the Democrats the past 8 years, one sees that they have actively SUPPORTED most of the significant foreign and domestic policy programs ofthe Cheney/Bush regime.The Democrats have supported the War on Terror, continued funding of the occupation of Iraq, supported the Patriot Act, supported the Homeland Security Dept. and ICE, as well as the recent bill to expand US domestic spying. Regarding the differences between Bill Clinton's and the RNC's speeches, the rhetoric on both sides is exactly that: rhetoric.In general, I think it's more productive to focus on POLICIES rather than supporting this or thatpolitical party or personality.Instead of worrying about which party holds power, work to promote those policies you support (or stop those policies you oppose)--regardless of which regime occupies the White House.
Erin/IxyObama did oppose the Iraqi war when no one else would. He did point out the war in Iraq would distract us from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Queda HQs are located. When he said he would meet with leaders of rogue nations, Republicans called him nieve, and now they are doing the very thing. I can go on until infinty making a case between the differences of Obama and the Republican party, but Obama is far from a fraud.His policies on trade, the economy and foriegn policy are right on the money. Ixy, without putting so much faith in these bised articles, from your own observation, what is it about Obama that brings you to the conclusion that he is a fraud? your opinion please and not someone elses. What is it about his policies that turn you off and Erin, what is it about Obama that makes you believe he is an agent of change?
hi Ixy/Please.sorry for the long hiatus. i've been in semi-hibernation mode for work reasons, but it's more than that too. every time i'm about to sit down and continue our conversation, i hear a snippet of the campaign coverage on NPR and the will to write drains out of are a couple things i wanted to say:- yes, deplorable cowardice on the part of the D party over the last 8 years, marching to the war beat of patriotic bludgering. w/ just a few exceptions, and the fact that Obama was one is significant. am i crazy about his lately stated support of Israel? no. do i think he'll take us right out of Iraq? not really. i think it's realistic to say that it's easier to get in than get out of Iraq, and Obama will have inherited a mess that, like Viet Nam, may span several presidencies. and in a situation like that, yes, there are only less bad decisions or worse ones to be made. but do i believe that his presidency would be different on the point of foreign relations--a meaningful change? yes. very simply, i do not see him as a warmonger. he's a constitutional law professor; i believe he would try diplomacy first, second, and third, and respect the rights of other nations. do i believe Obama would be meaningfully different in respect to our civil and constitutional rights? why yes, i do.- as for party allegiances: i agree that the Democrats at their worst can be as bad as the Republicans. but there's also a slate of issues, more domestic and social, on which the parties are never interchangeable and impossible to confuse. on these social platforms, as long as D or R is the choice, there is no cause to waiver.- and as for personality: you know, i think integrity counts. as do intellect and education. as does the ethical strength not to exploit the low blows that would truly demean one's opponent, but would also betray the pro-feminist principles one supports. it is to Obama's detriment that he doesn't play to the lowest common denominator with ad hominem attacks, but tries to keep the focus on precisely what you rightly want us to value, Ixy: the issues. this is a person i believe will make hard decisions with integrity. contrast that with the outright lies and misrepresentations the McCain Palin ticket practices to get ahead; personalities like these i wouldn't want as coworkers much less as president.- and finally, blaming the self-styled radicals: i stand by this. because presidential candidates will never come in removable and customizable parts. because it is necessary to be idealistic and pragmatic *both* and equally. because the difference between an imperfect boss and an abusive one is real. because living 8 years under the tyranny of the intolerant and the undereducated takes a toll. because as much as i do believe in Obama, i vote even more for the vision of an America that is capable of making him president. because i know this much for sure: you don't get change you don't believe in.i've enjoyed our exchanges here on this topic, so thanks to both of you. even as i write this 600 word essay, though, a part of me fears (despairs) that intelligent debate is simply not what is going to win or lose this election. and that's the vision of America i am trying hard to fight.good luck to all of us lefts-of-center. and don't forget: vote Obama.