Richard Cohen loathes the 2008 primary process for revealing racism and sexism in voters as well as pettiness in the candidates. He scolds those voters who won’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black, but fails to note those who make that their primary reason to vote for Obama. And at the end, he complains that his celebration of a history-making Democratic nominee will get tarnished by the process that produced it:
I loathe above all the resurgence of racism — or maybe it is merely my appreciation of the fact that it is wider and deeper than I thought. I am stunned by the numbers of people who have come out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black. I am even more stunned that many of these people have no compunction about telling a pollster they voted on account of race — one in five whites in Kentucky, for instance. Those voters didn’t even know enough to lie, which is what, if you look at the numbers, others probably did in other states. Such honesty ought to be commendable. It is, instead, frightening.
I acknowledge that some people can find nonracial reasons to vote against Obama — his youth, his inexperience, his uber-liberalism and, of course, his willingness to abide his minister’s admiration for a racist demagogue (Louis Farrakhan) until it was way, way too late. But for too many people, Obama is first and foremost a black man and is rejected for that reason alone. This is very sad.
I loathe what has happened to Hillary Clinton. This person of no mean achievement has been witchified, turned into a shrew, so that almost any remark of hers is instantly interpreted as sinister and ugly. All she had to do, for instance, was note that it took Lyndon Johnson to implement Martin Luther King‘s dream, and somehow it became a racist statement. The Obama camp has been no help in this regard, expressing insincere regret instead of a sincere “that’s not what she meant.”
I loathe also what Hillary Clinton has done to herself. The incessant exaggerations, the cheap shots, the flights into hallucinatory history — that sniper fire in Bosnia, for instance — have turned her into a caricature of what her caricaturists long claimed she already was. In this campaign, Clinton has managed to come across as a hungry hack, a Janus looking both forward and backward and seeming to stand for nothing except winning. This, too, is sad.
If he can “acknowledge” all of those negatives about Obama, why can’t he acknowledge that those reasons comprise the overwhelming reasons why Obama failed to win these votes? Certainly a small percentage of people cast their votes on race, and that’s lamentable. However, it seems rather obvious that at least as many people voted for Obama based on race as against him. Obama won 90% of the African-American vote in every Demcratic primary since February. Does Cohen believe that to be a coincidence?
And why should Cohen be surprised by this? The Democrats have lived by identity politics for decades. The only difference is that this year, the party has two candidates competing to see which faction will prevail. Anyone who follows American politics could have predicted the fault lines such a tight campaign would produce, and the fractures that would follow. Hillary has marshaled women who see themselves as next in line, while Obama has done the same with black voters, who feel as though this is their turn.
Cohen admits the priority that identity takes with him as well in his conclusion:
So I see little to be happy about, little that pleases my jaundiced eye. Yes, voter participation is way up and in the end, the Democrats will choose a woman or an African American and, to invoke that tiresome phrase, history will be made.
According to Cohen, the first priority of this primary was to make history by producing a non-white-male nominee. What is that, if not a kind of racism/sexism that prevails in identity politics?
Most of us loathe the kind of identity politics that insists on “turns” rather than talent. In truth, the Democrats fielded the weakest candidate slate in decades in this primary, with its three leading contenders having no executive experience at all and only four terms in the Senate combined, two of them incomplete. Given their paltry records, none of these candidates would have had a shot at the nomination had it not been for the exact same impulses that Cohen now derides. A more honest columnist would have acknowledged that as well.