In September, Newt Gingrich wondered aloud to the National Review Online whether Obama might be “so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” His comments ignited a mini media firestorm. The Los Angeles Times op-ed staff described his comments as “factually insane.” Conservative David Frum was less subtle, calling it “a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics.” The ensuing hullaballoo certainly gave Gingrich some street-cred among the far Right of the Republican Party and its appendage, the Tea Party. But his comments were part of a broader effort to paint the president as exotic, non-American, and Other. In fact, Gingrich’s comments were drawn from and in hearty support of an article written days earlier by Dinesh D’Souza for Forbes.
ORIGINALLY Dinesh D’Souza’s crazy-man-in-the-woods theory espoused in Forbes‘s “How Obama Thinks,” and the primer for his The Roots of Obama’s Rage book, that argues President Obama’s biography is so unique that his “rage” can only be understood through the lens of the anti-colonial rule of his father’s native Kenya; Newt Gingrich’s fairly recent utterance echoing D’Souza’s theory and describing his Forbes coverstory as “brilliant,” is some kind of yet named theory of genetic pre-disposition to anti-white insurrection. I say that jokingly, because it’s honestly as crazy a theory, as I’ve ever seen from a “credible” journalist. (The word credible is rightfully “scare quoted,” here, because as Dissent points out in “Anticolonial Behavior,” D’Souza once stated in his 1995 book the The End of Racism that, “slaves were treated as property, which is to say pretty good.” [This is also quoted by SourceWatch, here.] To his credit, the average of the Amazon “customer reviews” of his book turn out to be pretty positive. Take that with a grain of salt, however, because we know such things are often a partisan sampling.)
It is clear that the intent of Newt’s implication and D’Souza’s article is to say Obama seems to hold a distrust of traditional Western, free-market capitalism all because of his heritage, and this is their fundamental explanation for his policy choices. And this acts as just another reminder of how casually, permissibly and vaguely racist many can be — and, yes, while being intelligent (!) — without ever really being feared to be seen as a racist or even stigmatized, and perhaps rightfully so, for the more vile display of inhumanity that is associated with the traditional, magnified and more societally agreed upon forms of racism [cf. lynchings, intimidation, patent degradation, basic rights oppression], that such an idea as D’Souza and Gingrich’s utterance are the very cousin of; and which are the currency of much of the conservative Birther movement. Because the undergird of the “Obama-is-not-from-here” and “not like us” motif is not only that he’s an illegitimate president sans American birth certificate, but because of his undefined “otherness,” he is a threat to a particularly undefined way of life, and this expression is seen in those odd “we want our country back” phrasings of Birther’s protest signs.
Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.
But, why exactly is it racist? It is because a statement like Gingrich’s and a theory like D’Souza’s purposefully play to the xenophobia on the right and the ethnocentrism within the idea of “American values,” and a latent white fear of some idea of the “black man” as a unified and brooding contingent, since “anti-colonial” seems to seize on the idea of insurrection. Further, by using “anti-colonial” they are (perhaps purposefully) extracting from the hard drive of history the psychic images of black rebellion in the form of Nat Turner and the prevalent archetype of black identity/black militancy whose de rigueur is seen as resistant, secretly subversive and plotting against any authority, but especially white authority, or what they’d most likely term “the man” — but takes the form of institutions — and which sees blacks who hold power as ultimately agents of socio-historical vengeance, on a mission to exact retribution for injustices by way of reparations, socialism and other “re-distributive measures.”
And this is an odd fear to hold of minority avengement that most likely — mind you a sweeping generalization — is not directly on the mind of African-American men and other aggrieved minorities, but yet holds it and them foremost in the mind and suspicions. Within this context, this line of argument seems to be a blind spot for an obvious white guilt-complex, despite D’Souza’s heritage as South Asian, that has morphed into the palpable “I’m-tired-of-hearing-whites-were-bad-throughout-history” trope on the right. (E.G. The strong contingent of those who continually belittle the ideas of multiculturalism in the university and education, from policy to pedagogy, and the visible use of the term “politically correct,” as meaning a less than honest account or way to act.)
Gingrich had a chat with Robert Costa from National Review and Slate’s Dave Weigel after a screening of his new film, “America at Risk: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” And he had a lot to say about the president!
“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
“This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president,” Gingrich tells us.
“I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating — none of which was true,” Gingrich continues. “In the Alinksy tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve . . . He was authentically dishonest.”
“[Obama] is in the great tradition of Edison, Ford, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates — he saw his opportunity and he took it,” Gingrich says. Will Gingrich take it back in 2012? “The American people may take it back, in which case I may or may not be the recipient of that, but I have zero doubt that the American people will take it back. Unlike Ford, the Wright Brothers, et cetera, this guy’s invention did not work.”
“I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality,” Gingrich says. “If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.”
Part of my problem is that D’Souza and Gingrich are producing an apophenia out of individually irrelevant items from Obama’s story, here, like a cliche scene from Conspiracy Theory; with their walls plastered with newspaper clippings and thumb pins with connecting strings, pointing to a larger, paranoid narrative. Case in point: D’Souza also takes Obama’s estranged father’s essay from 1956, from before Obama was born, and then goes on to use it as a case for how the president, himself, thinks. There’s quite a bit of historical amnesia in this also, that argues that Obama’s actions in regards to The Great Recession and the prescient concerns of a teetering economy, at the very outset of Obama’s term and the end of Bush’s, were not as pressing as they were; and thus required that the government take heroic measures to save the economy. (Yet that is what the banks and the auto industry argued for, to get help, themselves. And so, D’Souza is acting as though “Obama’s socialism” is the case there.) They also play with Obama’s personal history, by acting as though he is a native Kenyan — even if they acknowledge that he isn’t — because both men argue that Kenya’s imprint upon him is the most defining element in his decision-making, all because of his father; and this simultaneously strikes up by proxy the Birther’s accusations which claim some vast conspiracy to hide the fact of Obama not being American at all. And the truth is, Obama had visited Kenya only three times in his life, and for relatively short periods of time.
D’Souza’s theory also seems by its corollary to defend the shaky history of colonialism as though it is an unassailable good. The idea that Obama is so foreign to our conception as Americans and to the “American Experience,” that he can only be understood through his “anti-colonial roots,” should be insulting in various ways, but prime among them: our own roots as Americans being anti-colonialists, fighting the imperialism of the British Empire and also our collective intelligence. Are we to honestly believe that despite all of his very mainstream American ambition and social ladder climbing, Obama is using this very position he aspired to be in, to enact beliefs that are counter to the American way? If this was a plan, Obama ought to be commended for it, because there was no guarantee that he could even get a whiff of the Presidency, and that would be quite the display of discipline to carry out what would seem to be a decades-in-the-making ploy.
Obama’s roots are just as American as someone who was born and raised in Boise, Idaho or New York City; if their parent/s served as missionaries or perhaps even, a servicemen or diplomat. (Accounting for his time abroad, that’d otherwise be seen as an asset, if he weren’t a Democrat.) D’Souza and Gingrich would have a better chance with their argument, if it weren’t for the fact that the young Obama worked very hard in the utmost American way, displaying his belief in meritocratic values, finding his way onto some of the finest universities in the world, first starting at Occidental and then moving on to Columbia and then Harvard Law. All three, to varying degrees, are some pretty rarefied and aspired-to realms of American society.
So to say that President Obama is something not authentically American, is at the very least subtly racist on several levels, and it further pins itself to the underlying idea that African-Americans are not “truly American” or patriotic, and as though particular immigrants of a certain stripe are not American at all and cannot ever be, as well as those who hail from nations once dominated by colonialist rule whose nations hold particularly robust resistance movements; and to further say that they are not to be understood in the same way as native-born Americans. The fact that Obama spent some of his early childhood in places where there seems to be a lot of “dark people” and away from the values of contiguous America — or “off the mainland” as D’Souza says in the video (above) — adds yet another layer upon the layers of message within this argument. Apparently, being Hawaiian is not the same as being American to D’Souza.
What Obama is, is a different version of America than the one these two men are willing to acknowledge. Though, oddly, D’Souza uses his own background growing up in India to prop up Obama’s “otherness,” a trait he not only acknowledges but attempts to mobilize politically as somewhat traitorous to the American conceptions of ” right and wrong.” By doing this, D’Souza fails to see any hypocrisy and the roadblocks to consistency in his own theory. D’Souza claims in his Forbes article, that he remembers his time in Mumbai, India under the anti-colonialist era and brings up the background of his own family as an anecdote on anti-colonialists’ ideology and uses it as proof of Obama’s destructive anti-American mindset. Yet, D’Souza again is untruthful, as is Gingrich, about what anti-colonialism is.
Under the definition that D’Souza uses of colonialism — “Anti-colonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.” Anti-colonialism, then, (in paraphrase), is opposition to the system where wealthy Western countries exploit poor countries (like in Asia, Africa and South America) to become powerful. It’s overly simple, this definition, and doesn’t speak to the level of education D’Souza holds, and seems to imply that this obfuscation is, in fact, done on purpose. Colonialism is not only committed by Western countries, so why use it as an important element in the D’Souza definition? And colonialism is not only with the expressed purposes of gaining money and power, but also the outright subjugation of other nations’ populations for their territory. And, can anyone honestly say that this entire premise that seems to be the elephant in the room; the implication that colonialism is actually a good thing, and the argument by D’Souza and then uttered by Gingrich, not wholly misguided?
Read Dissent‘s “Anticolonial Behavior” [Here]