Divisive, negative, and shameful campaign tactics are nothing new. But divisive, negative and shameful campaign tactics focused on race and sex is a vicious new twist this election year.
Barack Obama’s candidacy and eventual nomination brought racial politics in America to the fore like never before. Hillary Clinton’s failed Democratic primary bid and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination as John McCain’s vice presidential candidate injected sex and gender into the race.
If Barack Obama wins the election, will the stigma of racism in the United States be wiped away once and for all? If John McCain loses, will Republicans use the defeat as a reason to condemn affirmative action, "identity politics" and any other effort to help women or minorities get ahead? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
If this election season is any indication, the reason Republicans spend so much effort deriding "identity politics" is because they’re so bad at it.
John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin is a perfect example. McCain wanted to stick a thumb in Barack Obama’s eye — and maybe pick up a few Hillary Clinton fans along the way — so he picked a female running mate. Then Palin started visiting with journalists like Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. In nearly every case, Palin proved herself woefully unprepared for the job she sought.
Compare this with the Democratic primary race. Yes, race and gender were hot issues during the contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
But that was partly because the campaign was so close: Both candidates clearly had a grasp of the issues at hand. Obama is a good candidate who is black. Clinton was a good candidate who is a woman. Sarah Palin is, well, a woman.
Liberals practice identity politics and support affirmative action largely because they want to see qualified people — people who had previously been denied good opportunities — get ahead. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, but that’s the goal. Republicans misunderstood. They thought any woman would do.
Republicans lose when they try to beat liberals at their own game.
Identity politics is the sole province of modern liberalism. It’s a mistake, however, to assume that John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate solely because she is a woman. Oh, Palin’s gender was undoubtedly part of the political calculus.
But McCain also needed to pick a solid conservative running mate and a Washington outsider to help shore up a listless and disaffected base. The fact that Palin is woman just made her ideological credentials that much more appealing.
Running on the gender card isn’t conservative, though. Republicans have sounded ridiculous accusing the other party of sexism. Palin stands or falls on her merits. She knew the job was dangerous when she took it.
Meantime, the Democrats and their fellow travelers in the press wallow in the politics of racial grievance. One of the more egregious recent examples: Douglass Daniel, an Associated Press writer, recently wrote an "analysis" of the McCain-Palin campaign in which he suggested that efforts to link Obama with former Weatherman terrorist William Ayers carried a "racial tinge."
Ayers, of course, is white. And, yes, he was a terrorist. And, yes, Obama had a close relationship with him. Evidently, any criticism of Obama is racially tinged, no matter how legitimate — or tendentious.
Some deep thinkers have suggested that if Obama wins the election, the nation’s agony over race will be over. Now that’s debatable. But if Obama wins, there’s going to be a lot more of it. What a shame.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)