The idea that any time a person with a Spanish last name is tapped for a job, his or her entire lifetime of accomplishments is going to be wiped out in a riptide of bitching and moaning about “identity politics” is not a fun concept for me to contemplated. Qualifications like time at Princeton, Yale Law, and on the Circuit Court that work well for guys with Italian names suddenly don’t work if you have a Spanish name. Heaven forbid someone were to decide that there ought to be at least one Hispanic columnist at a major American newspaper.And, how about the following from Reason's Steve Chapman?
Somehow, when George W. Bush affects a Texas accent, that’s not identity politics. When John Edwards gets a VP nomination, that’s not identity politics. But Sonia Sotomayor! Oh my heavens!At any rate, Ann Friedman wrote a great piece on the hypocrisy of this back during the Democratic primary. And I think this item from Neil Sinhababu on constructing political identities is insightful.
Few objections were heard from Republicans in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush decided that the ideal person to fill the vacancy left by Thurgood Marshall, the court's first black justice, was Clarence Thomas, who just happened to be black as well.
Bush did his best to have it both ways. He insisted that race was irrelevant and that Thomas was simply the "best qualified" candidate in the country. But he also said, "(I)f credit accrues to him for coming up through a tough life as a minority in this country, so much the better."
Back then, conservatives played the identity game gingerly, as if they were slightly embarrassed. But they have since learned to make the most of it. The most recent and regrettable example is Sarah Palin, lustily cheered by Republican audiences last year not because she had the credentials and ability to step into the presidency, but because she was the Right Kind of Person.
First, she was a woman, picked to attract disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters, as Palin shamelessly highlighted: "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."
Second, she was not one of those effete urban elitists but a real American—small-town girl, beauty queen, hockey mom, "Bible-believing Christian" (as she put it), mother of five, and moose hunter.
Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), said she was controversial because "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." Palin herself celebrated her brethren from small towns, which she called "all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."
Of course it's useful to include the perspective of small-town residents in formulating policy, just as it's a good idea to consider the impact of laws on Latinos. But to imagine that either group—or any group—has a unique claim to wisdom or goodness is only to prove that no group is immune to foolishness.