Column: Ms. Identity Politics

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced this week she’s running for president. She’s not the first woman ever to dive into the GOP’s Also-Ran Industrial Complex and (wink) attempt to become the (wink, wink) next president of the United States. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll last time around. So far, Carly’s the only woman this cycle vying for the Republican nomination.

“Running for president” is so lucrative in book deals and speaking fees that just being a conservative and hinting at throwing your hat into the ring automatically ups your cachet. There will be a minimum of 20 plus conservatives who will all be dubbed as viable candidates; only one will lead the official ticket. Yet there’s a 100 percent chance the also-rans, after aiming for the moon, will land among the GOP stars.

So none of us should be surprised when any random, unemployed, right-of-center public figure makes a YouTube video saying they’re in it to win it.

“If you believe it is time to declare the end of identity politics,” said the embattled former CEO in her announcement featuring her watching the video of Hillary Clinton’s announcement on TV, “the end of lowered expectations, then join us.”

Now, Carly’s entire schtick, her charm, call it her edge in this race, according to her, is her gender. (That and the fact that she’s run, yet never won, an election. So she’s not, according to her, a professional politician, just a runner-up amateur, like the Founding Fathers wanted. Of course.)

“I think that if Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” Fiorina said to the press at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast last month. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.”

So Carly’s gender neutralizes Hillary’s gender? And that’s an end to identity politics? An idea brought to you by the same people who say there can’t possibly be racial animus now that we’ve had a biracial president. Or that the GOP can’t possibly be accused of tolerating or harboring racial animus, because this cycle’s black Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s book signing audiences are a whopping 20 percent African American.

Carly’s lack of a Y chromosome is going to shut Hillary up? This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.

This is probably the most bizarre and sexist thing I’ve heard in this election thus far (it’s still early though and I have faith).

A woman saying she’d like the state to see women as public incubators is somehow better than a man saying it? The GOP’s war on women is over because Carly isn’t a dude?! So if Hillary faces her in the general she will “not be able to talk about” or play the gender card of birth control, paid maternity leave, affordable childcare, pay equality and domestic violence legislation and why the GOP opposes them?

I’m not quite sure where this idea came from. When Carly got her party’s nomination to run for the senate in California in 2010, she was so beyond gender stereotypes she yammered into a hot mic on CNN, “Saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, ‘God what is that hair?’ So yesterday.” 

Lowered expectations? Ended.

Identity politics is about bringing in the marginalized—the disenfranchised—and giving them a vehicle for their voice to be heard. The reason Republicans tut-tut at the idea of identity politics is because they are (still) the party of majority straight white men. They’re also the party against affirmative action while at the same time claiming their strange brand of tokenism is proof of the party’s diversity.  

Eight years ago, Hillary didn’t play the gender card. She didn’t play identity politics. She didn’t talk about being the first woman president. She ran, according to reports, as a Thatcher-esque Iron Lady, not a woman, just a strong, capable leader. Barack Obama, in contrast, talked about who he was and what, in turn, that made us. Then, for the first time, little kids all over America got to see someone who looked like them become the most powerful man in the world.

While First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary made strides for women and girls all over the world. It’s what she’s admired most for globally. Hillary should talk about gender and women’s issues—no matter how much the GOP’s 2016 wannabes think they can shut her up.


Photo by TechCrunch