The Promise and Peril of Identity Politics: Hope in a Dismal Season

George W. Bush is a stunningly and deservedly unpopular president.  His approval ratings rival Nixon’s after Watergate, and the Republicans largely avoided any mention of him at their convention in St. Paul, a convention from which Bush was conspicuously absent.  Under his leadership, we have become embroiled in a war that has cost thousands of American lives and billions of dollars, witnessed middle-class incomes stagnate as our manufacturing base has continued to disappear and our budget and trade deficits have soared, and become enmeshed in a financial crisis that has already seen government bailouts for Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae; the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers; and the purchase of a failing Merrill Lynch by the Bank of America.  We may yet see a more general collapse of an economic system built on oceans of debt.  And yet, as of this writing, Republican John McCain is neck and neck with Barack Obama in the polls, and even held a slim lead over Obama following the Republican convention.  How can this be?

The answer may be found in the reaction to McCain’s selection as his running mate of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a figure who now enjoys a higher approval rating than McCain or Obama, not to mention the hapless Joe Biden, who is traveling the country in a chartered 737 that is 80-percent empty because so few reporters are covering him.  Palin has helped solidify McCain as...

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