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When Identity Politics Boomerang

Glenn Reynolds has a fascinating take on how the rise of identity politics on the left has caused politicians such as John Edwards to appear increasingly phony--even to a fellow lefty like Paul Krugman:

In his latest column -- link here for Times $elect subscribers -- Paul Krugman complains about the cult of "authenticity" in politics, and how it makes people like John Edwards come across as phonies. FDR was a rich guy who cared about the poor, he says, so why can't John Edwards be?

Well, John Edwards is no FDR. But the answer to Krugman's complaint is found in the post 1960s political zeitgeist. Back before identity politics, and the notion that "the personal is political," the idea of a rich guy representing poor people was entirely plausible. He could be rich, but still have ideas about poverty, and care about them. But now that we have identity politics and the like, that's impossible: If only a woman can represent women, only a black person can represent blacks, etc. -- Barbara Boxer even suggested that Condi Rice couldn't understand mothers because she was childless -- then obviously only a poor person can represent poor people. And since there are no poor people in American political office, poor people perforce go unrepresented. Thus, the "progressive" causes of identity politics and personalization mean that the progressives' key clients can't get "authentic" representation. This is probably bad for the country, but it's certainly a bed that the progressives have made for themselves.

Of course, maybe Krugman's column on how Really Rich People can authentically Care About The Poor is just a stealth defense of the New York Times' advertisers:

Did anyone else read the NYT magazine this weekend? It was all about poverty and income inequality. Some articles were better than others, and I didn't read them all, but the hilarious part wasn't in the articles. It was in the ads. On page after page, the magazine hawked luxury condos starting in the 8 figures. Pictures of these glorious $10 million-plus pied--terres with 24-hour doormen, room service and Master of the Universe views of Manhattan were punctuated with ads for financial advisers and garish jewelry and, oh yeah, essays on what to do about the poor. There was an almost Edwardian irony to the whole thing; a magazine for the New Aristocrats discussing the poor and how they live with a mixture of dispassionate, almost academic, bemusement and charity ball passion.
It's all making sense, now . . . .
And yet, something that Patrick Ruffini wrote during the time of the Oscar Awards still holds very much true, I think:
Liberals get all pissy when conservatives decide to tune out institutions that don't represent them and create new ones -- just look at the sneering at "Faux News" and Rush and homeschooling and values voters. In Hollywood as in mainstream media, there is a price to be paid when an institution decides to leverage its prestige to push a political position where none is warranted; it's a price that is paid in viewership, influence, and profit -- in this case, a 30% falloff in viewers.
That was only two years ago, and it's safe to say that liberals still continue to "get all pissy when conservatives decide to tune out institutions that don't represent them and create new ones". But given the near universality of identity politics and related "absolute moral authority" claims amongst the left, should they really be that surprised when a group of voters seek media (whether it's news or entertainment) that they feel best represents their own identity?



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