I’ve had it. And the 2008 election system has just started.
According to the pollsters, I am one of those “older female voters” who can be counted on to support Hillary Clinton because, after all, we’re so much alike. We share a gender.
This may come as a big shock to the so-called “analysts” who like to slice and dice the electorate into “interest groups” and “market niches” based upon some wonky version of identity politics, but women—even those of a “certain age”—are not a monolithic voting bloc. Not long ago, I wrote about my irritation with negative gender stereotypes: the South Carolina (female) Republican who employed a sexist term for Clinton, and the patronizing (male) commentators who applied a gender lens to every tactic employed by her campaign. I think many women feel the same impatience with that sort of one-dimensional approach to her candidacy.
But guess what? Many of us are equally impatient with a candidate who seems to feel entitled to our votes simply by virtue of a common gender, and with pundits who give that entitlement legitimacy. When Barack Obama was asked whether he anticipated getting a major share of the African-American vote, he sensibly replied that he expected he’d need to earn every vote. He clearly recognized what the “chattering classes” seem unable to grasp, that women, blacks, Latinos, young people and all the other groups into which voters get lumped consist of individuals who are more—and more complicated—than those labels reflect.
In both the Republican and Democratic primaries, we have seen strong signals that voters are tired to death of the poll-centered politics of the last few election cycles. Both Huckabee and McCain have based their appeals to GOP voters on straight talk; Mitt Romney, vastly better financed and clearly more acceptable to the business wing of the party, has dutifully designed (or changed) his positions on the basis of his polling. Conventional wisdom favored Romney, but so far, actual voters haven’t.
Among Democrats, as Frank Rich observed in the New York Times, it is the Clinton campaign, led by pollster Mark Penn, that is following the older script. “In Mrs. Clinton’s down-to-earth micropolitics, polls often seem to play the leadership role. That leaves her indecisive when one potential market is pitched against another.” If those polls also tell her she can count on women’s votes, she’s in for a surprise. This election won’t be decided on the basis of gender or race. They won’t be irrelevant, but they won’t be decisive, either.
This is an election about the future, about where we are going as a nation. It is about who can best bring a sour, fractured, dispirited citizenry together again, about who can best heal the deep divisions created by wedge issues and culture wars and pandering to political bases. It’s about vision and hope—and yes, change.
It isn’t about identity politics. Candidates who think it is are part of the past we so desperately need to change.