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Let's put an end to the politics of identity

May. 11, 2013 @ 12:28 AM

WASHINGTON -- Enough with this "enough" business.

Latest to the question of whether a person is sufficiently identifiable as belonging to a particular demographic is Ted Cruz -- the conservative Texas senator who happens to be of Hispanic descent.

But is he Hispanic enough? For what, his family taco recipe? Before you send in the sensitivity police, permit me to finish, por favor.

The suggestion that Cruz might not qualify as a representative Hispanic comes from a fellow Hispanic, former U.N. Ambassador and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson was asked whether Cruz, who opposes immigration reform as currently proposed, represents most Hispanics with his views. Richardson replied:

"Almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform. No, I don't think he should be defined as a Hispanic."

Translation: If you disagree with the consensus of the demographic to which you belong, whether black, female, gay, Hispanic or whatever, then you are essentially not part of the conversation. At least not the one that matters -- the vote-organizing constituency.

President Obama suffered similarly from a not-black-enough trope that began circulating when he first emerged as the potential Democratic candidate. His truly African-American bona fides aside, his civil rights resume was lacking and his ancestors hadn't been slaves. What could the son of a Kenyan know about being a black American?

Obama obviously succeeded in convincing African-Americans that he was qualified to bear the mantle of his demographic. Once elected, he strategically identified with blacks in public ways. He stepped up to the plate in defense of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. when a white cop insisted that he prove ownership of the house he occupied. The iconic beer summit followed. And Obama identified Trayvon Martin, the black teen fatally shot by a neighborhood vigilante, as someone who could have been his son.

Others have been hauled before the court of identity politics, especially pro-life women. Likewise, those who lament the tragic consequences of the dissolution of the traditional family, meaning a mother and a father, are quickly marginalized as bigots with a gay problem. The ipso facto, zero sum-ness of our so-called discourse produces a quagmire of absolutism where truth is the ultimate victim.

Cruz is one of those politicians whom people love or hate. Nearly everyone has a Cruz story because to not have a Cruz story is to not be in the know. He's the flavor du jour and, therefore, is variously subject to elevation and denigration as dictated by that barometer of relevance, trending on social media.

Given our litmus politics, Cruz is necessarily being scrutinized for his stance on immigration. As a Hispanic, he must be in favor of amnesty, or a "path to citizenship."

For the record, I personally favor such a path. Realistically, I see no humane way to export 11 million souls, many of whom, not incidentally, constitute a significant wedge of our economic pie. Get rid of farm laborers only if you prefer a $5 orange.

But Cruz is also a conservative, former law professor and solicitor general of Texas with deep qualms about pretending that laws don't matter. This does not mean he's anti-immigrant, the preferred invective for any who oppose giving special status to people who came here without permission. In a quirk of the new, diverse Republican Party, the immigration reform legislation Cruz opposes was created in part by fellow Hispanic superstar Marco Rubio.

Rather than insist that Cruz fall in line, shouldn't we be celebrating a clear victory for true diversity? That is, diversity of thought. Here we have two conservative Republicans of Hispanic origin who have different views on an important issue. Wasn't this always the point of our grand American experiment?

Freedom means, foremost, freedom to speak without fear of impeachment or censure. And a diverse society succeeds only insofar as diverse ideas are welcomed. Cruz is no more bound by his heritage to fall in line with "almost every Hispanic" than Obama was required to place alms at the feet of those who, by their own analysis, considered themselves blacker than he.

Basta, already. Enough.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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