Monday, December 1, 2008

A Paradigm Shift

I had a discussion with a friend this morning. We were talking about Barack Obama, identity politics, and gay marriage, not terribly coherently, but they were all in the same conversation.

I told my friend that what had exhausted me when I was doing gay community organizing was the identity politics, and the divergence of interests within the LGBT community. I also noted how identity politics prevented people from taking Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seriously in their presidential candidacies.

The Republicans for years have used a variant of identity politics with their wedge issues, splitting off parts of the Democratic Party's coalition such that one group in the coalition could not support the issues that another group considered vital.

So out of nowhere comes Barack Obama. No, he's not post-racial or bi-racial or Black or anything else like that. He changed the debate. It's no longer identity politics. It's not about race (or gender, or orientation, or religious belief). What he offered us was a new perspective on what it means to be American. According to Mr. Obama's view, we all have a legitimate claim to call ourselves authentically American. It doesn't depend on your color, your gender, your race, your religion, or your sexuality.

We are all a part of Mr. Obama's vision of America because our Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." And we obtain those inalienable because we are founded on a Constitution, which in its preamble aspires to form "a more perfect union" and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity...."

As my friend said, Obama leap-frogged over identity politics. He has given us a new way to think about ourselves in relation to each other: we are all part of the American experiment. We all have claims on justice. We're all in this together. We are living in a nation that is ever working to be more perfect, and Barack Obama clearly articulated that notion for us. We can put our best selves to the task. Yes we can.

Democrats and Republicans can continue to play by the old rules of identity politics, marginalization, and negative campaigning, but the rest of us don't have to play by the rules anymore. We now have a larger view, a more inclusive view. Maybe at the Independence Day celebrations in 2009 we can say "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." and really understand, finally, what justice for all really means in America.