Elections '06: Identities Politics

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For the last month we’ve been focusing one show each week on an individual house district or a full state-wide senate race as a way to create, in aggregate, a sort of pointillist political portrait of the country. We’ll be continuing this series on Tuesday when we focus on the Missouri senate race, but first we’re hoping to spend an hour talking about the future of ethnic, racial, and identity politics. This was suggested, in a roundabout way, by a number of disparate threads, including white Tennessee’s response to Harold Ford Jr. as described by John Jay Hooker and the rise of the African-American gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick here in Massachusetts, who won the Democratic primary over, among others, an Irish-American.

We’re wondering if, in this Tiger Woods era in golf, we’re watching a Barack Obama trend coming in politics — not the notion of Obama as the great Democratic hope, but a complexifying of ethnic and other identities where skin color means many things or nothing, and the Irish vote may mean less than, say, “defense moms” or “Log Cabin Republicans.” For example: What does it mean — if anything — when pundits and pollsters talk today about the Latino or black votes as monolithic entities? What about Cubans in Miami, who supposedly vote Republican? There are still many Italian-Americans in Rhode Island. But is there an Italian vote there? Or an Irish vote in Boston?

MoveOn.org, Focus on the Family, NARAL and the NRA may have replaced local, ethnic political machines, but have they supplanted them? Which of our identities matter most when we pull the voting booth curtain closed behind us?

Yvette Alex-Assensoh

Associate Professor of Political Science, Indiana University

Editor, Black and Multiracial Politics in America

James Morone

Professor of Political Science and Urban Studies, Brown University

Author, Hellfire Nation and The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government, among others

Mark Sawyer

Associate Professor of Political Science, UCLA

David Slavitt

Former candidate for Massachusetts state legislature

Author, Blue State Blues

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