Monday, October 16, 2006
Some words about identity
(a few small edits)

Being the good* gender scholar that I am, I often contemplate identity politics. As someone who is uncomfortable with notions of fixed identity, essentialism and dichotomies, I tend to shun labels. Homosexual/heterosexual? NO WAY. Woman/man? A FARSE. I find that most "labels" are socially constructed and always follow some sort of neat, orderly binary that tends to priviledge one and minimize the other.

However, one label I am ALL about is "liberal." I associate liberal with progressive and view that as inherently good. I don't shun away from ANY essentializing of political ideology and I LOVE to minimize the other half of this binary--CONSERVATIVES.

But this binary isn't so neat and orderly--because there's this gray area in the middle. The gray area known as "moderate." As THIS heated exchange points out, it is an important area for Democrats to address as we approach 08.

My stance on this issues makes me dogmatic for sure...but it doesn't make me unreflexive. But I have been unable to determine what makes some people so scared of the label "liberal" and what makes me so quick to discount "moderates." I think part of it is that I used to surround myself with lots of people who called themselves moderates and that was basically code for voting to make money instead of voting to support the social issues that I find most important. Another part is that I want a choice...I don't want to pick the "lesser of the two evils" (although I will if that's the only option). I don't want to have an ANYBODY BUT BUSH attitude. Instead I want a democrat who represents MY views. I want a democrat who supports gay marriage. I want a democrat who is anti war and actually can come up with a plan that we follow to get us the hell out of Iraq. I want a democrat who will not take a MODERATE stance on abortion. And I want a democrat that stands up against the Patriot Act and torture. In this day in age-- do those wants put me in the "liberal" category? I don't think so. But I think it is a mistake to discount people like me in our attempt to play "nice" and "moderate" politics. Because I feel a little ostercized to tell ya the truth.

This whole moderate label makes me want to pull out my hair and do a really unattractive dance in rage that involves stomping and arm waving. It reminds me of all the fights I get into with women who favor a woman's right to choose, equal pay for equal work yet refuse to identify as a "feminist." You know....there are times when labels are empowering and "extremist" is just another word for "passionate."

* yeah, i'm totally kidding about the good part. i'm not sure if what i do counts as good or scholarly! but i do think about gender a lot....


Anonymous lili said...

feminist and proud

Blogger earls said...

How do you feel about "progressive?" It's kind of the default way of trying to unify the liberal and moderate blocs w/in the party under one header.

My take on your post and the larger question of why people are afraid to call themselves as such: liberal as a label is so demonized that it's absolute poison in a national election. Check out the number of people that self-ID as liberal over time -- it has totally plummeted in comparison to moderate or conservative. Liberal policies, on the other hand, can definitely win, provided who's selling them and under what header. So from an electoral standpoint, I don't think describing yourself as a liberal works. Hence the distancing from the label, GOP attack ad accusations, and the new spin of progressive.

Blogger kristen said...

I feel like progressive is too easily co-opted. I think that a lot of conservatives consider (and call!) themselves progressive...

I don't know why we don't just reclaim "liberal" like many feminists reclaimed "feminist." Just b/c there is a large push by the right to paint liberals as bad for America means we have to agree.

Why not take ownership of liberal and sell a liberal agenda to the American people....with the poll #'s on Iraq, it may actually resonate.

Blogger earls said...

I think while progressive may eventually become co-opted and toxic, it currently is not. While I'd love to reclaim the liberal label as a positive, doing so is much easier said than done and attempts to reclaim it would potentially incur continued electoral losses nationally in my view.

2004 election: 21% self-ID as liberal, 45% as moderate, 34% as, even if the winds are blowing positive for Dems in this cycle, that's very different from blowing positive for liberals. I guess we should wait and see what the '06 results say as far as ID (I bet the liberal label jumps to mid-to-high 20s and the conservative dips to mid-to-high 20s).

Also, current polling shows that while Dems may be treading left, the population as a whole is tired of divisive politics and is looking for people that can appeal beyond partisan labels. Look at Lamont/Lieberman in the Dem primary vs. the overall CT election.

Blogger kristen said...

I guess I don't buy that people are sick of devisive politics. I think a Lamont victory at all proves that (a) partisanship works (as the message was that Lieberman is NOT a big enough partisan)and (b) voters are ready for a "liberal" if they have the option.

The biggest problem is that people associate "liberal" with Sharpton and the like...if we associated "liberal" with Richardson and/or Obama, more people would be happy with the association. If the people who are liberals called themselves that, their supporters would realize there is nothing wrong with the term.

Blogger earls said...

Lamont's victory in the Dem primary shows that hyper-partisanship works in the Dem primary.

Lieberman's (soon-to-be) victory in the general election shows that such a tact doesn't work against a candidate that can claim the broader consensus. Even in a bluest-of-the-blue state like CT.

Blogger kristen said...

i don't know...lieberman may win but i think that the rhetoric used in this debate (by bloggers and lamont) changes the nature of acceptable "proof" of qualifications. An incumbant used to be able to say "look at my voting record" or "look at my history in the party." Now they have to say "no i'm a REAL democrat and let me show you everything i've done to thwart the right." I guess time will tell if this truly is a new trend or just an isolated incident.

Blogger Matt said...

From a game theory perspective, the race to identify as a moderate is going to win the game/election for you, though. If you stand on the island of "liberal" or "conservative," you've got one and only one chance to win... mobilize the base (which Democrats have been horrible at). Otherwise, whoever can beat the other candidate for the huge middle section of the Bell curve wins the election.

With races being as close as they've been, I don't think you'll see someone have the guts to come out and say "I'm a liberal and you need to vote for me." You risk not only losing the middle voters because of your stance, but more importantly, you risk having the other candidate soften some of their stances more towards the middle of the political spectrum to reclaim votes.

It'd be cool, but I just think there's too much at risk with razor-thin margins of victories to try it now on things like Presidential elections.

Blogger kristen said...

I guess I just hope those tides are turning...I think a "liberal" message is going to start resonating with a majority of Americans soon. We're seeing that on Iraq and we are starting to see it on gay marraige and some other domestic issues. The challenge is proving that liberal is not a dirty word and it actually representative of a lot of the ideals of voters.

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