Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Huck and the Birthers

Today's birther news is an interview with Mike Huckabee in which he says that he believes that Barack Obama was born American (based on the impeccable logic that if he wasn't, the Hillary Clinton campaign would have pounced on it), but adds:
But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.
Of course, Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii (with a stop in Indonesia), not Kenya. Dave Weigel declares Huckabee innocent of birtherism, saying that he's just "ill-informed."

I don't buy it. This is where birtherism gets tricky. In its wildest forms, birtherism is about a massive conspiracy to install a conscious, deliberate enemy of the United States in the White House. It's nice that Mike Huckabee doesn't subscribe to that. But in its more plausible, and presumably more popular forms, it's really just a way of saying that Barack Obama isn't a "real" American.

Pushing the entirely phony Kenyan anti-imperialism idea is basically just as nutters and destructive as believing that relatively benign version of birtherism. What matters to most birthers isn't really whether Barack Obama is literally eligible for the presidency; it's the idea that he's somehow anti-America. The whole point of Dinesh D'Souza's nonsense is to allow for the latter without needing the former.

And, it can't be said often enough, being against imperialism is and almost always has been the policy of the United States of America. OK, granted, there's plenty of hypocrisy over the years in the US version of anti-imperialism, but still, that's certainly been the policy with regard to Africa, and it's at least somewhat bizarre for Huck or D'Souza or Newt or anyone to claim that opposing British rule in Kenya is a sign of unAmerican beliefs.

Weigel points out that D'Souza's silly book was "One of the conservative literary hits of 2010, like it or not." That's true -- but is it really going to be a litmus test for GOP presidential candidates in 2012 that they have to parrot back whatever crazed ravings are found in the "literary hits" of movement conservatives?

If so, we're in for a very long two years.


  1. "(based on the impeccable logic that if he wasn't, the Hillary Clinton campaign would have pounced on it)"
    That actually strikes me as pretty reasonable logic.. or were you not being sarcastic?

  2. No, I wasn't being sarcastic. Sounds reasonable to me.

  3. I agree with you. The "clarification" offered by Huck's spokesman--that he meant to say Indonesia and not Kenya--doesn't make sense, since he talked about Obama growing up with his father and grandfather, both of whom were in fact Kenyan. Huck has never shown any signs of the level of ignorance needed to get these facts screwed up by accident. Surely he is as familiar with Obama's conventional bio as anyone else at Fox.

    What I think is that a lot of mainstream Republicans are embracing the underlying themes of birtherism without embracing birtherism itself. Make no mistake: anytime a Republican says "We don't know who Obama is," they are deliberately engaging in crypto-birtherism.

    You can see the seeds of it in Mark Penn's now-notorious 2007 memo, in which he stated basically that Obama's "multicultural" background made him out of step with American values. This was before the rise of the actual birther movement, but after the conspiracies about Obama's "Muslim" roots had emerged. What this all boils down to is that many of Obama's adversaries, instead of being impressed by the diversity in his background, believe that his "exotic" roots somehow make him sinister and untrustworthy. It's a form of xenophobic paranoia (with strong racial overtones) that can never be completely banished from the minds of those who are receptive to it, and it is what fuels the birthers more than anything else.

  4. I think the "Clinton would have said something" line is also a dodge.

    First, it's clearly a dog-whistle for Clinton haters. Second, it allows for the argument that "yes, those Clintons are evil and smart, but maybe they screwed up on this one."

    Note that the clarification issued by his spokesperson also uses wishy-washy language. "the Governor believes the President was born in Hawaii" 'Believes' is not 'knows.' The statement could very easily have said "the President was born in Hawaii." Beliefs are opinions; facts are facts.

    Remember: we're talking about one of the three to raise his hand to say he didn't believe in evolution. This is a guy who is willing to blow the dog whistle.

  5. If more than 1 percent of Huckabee voters have a personal view of the "Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya," I'd be mighty surprised.

  6. We ARE in for a long two years

  7. I absolutely agree that the Republican establishment is forwarding birtherism in one hand and denying it in the other. What we are saying here is those having cake and eating it proudly (not that eating cake is bad; it's a matter of which cake you CHOOSE that is the problem).

    Obama has been tagged as foreign, socialist, Muslim, and terroristic. The nation is everyday being taken by charlatanism. I don't even know if we can call it all right-wing; what do we call the truthers? Is Alex Jones conservative?

    The deevolution of our dialogue might be the downside of the same decentralization or power that has led to the positive changes in our world: Google over Microsoft, insurgents over dictators, and independent writers over major media groups. I'm all for revolution, but even if I wasn't... it's inevitable.

    On another note, some A-holes over at WND are trying to claim that Obama is linked to Ghadafi. How's that for a new rumor? Not to toot my own horn, but I SLAMMED it as hard as I could here: http://mosescoachwood.blogspot.com/2011/02/obama-ghadafi-connection-newest-lie-on.html

    I like the blog; keep it coming.


    -Moses Coachwood

  8. @ TN

    I thought so at first, but then I recalled that evangelicals often feel connected to the third world by missionary friends and relatives. (One of my great aunts was a Baptist missionary in Chile.)

    Christian missionaries often find themselves looking to colonial or ex-colonial powers for protection. They may believe, not always wrongly, that anti-colonial movements are led or instigated by godless Marxists. I wouldn't be surprised if some evangelical communities have shared narratives that are friendlier to European colonialism than American sentiment generally.

  9. My first reaction to the Huckabee quote was to think that nothing could be more 'American' than to grow up hearing that the British were imperialists who mistreated your ancestors. But I'm seeing the logic now, as suggested in my last post. Huckabee is appealing to narratives in which 'good' is equated to 'Christian' and 'bad' to everything anti-Christian or not Christian - non-Christian religions as well as Marxism and any kind of materialism. In this context European colonialism falls into the 'good' box, anti-colonialism into the 'bad'.

  10. I found an article that indicates there was an explicitly anti-Christian aspect of the Mau Mau, as some rebels linked Christianity to colonial oppression and advocated reviving native religious traditions.

  11. I think it's interesting that Huck gives every impression that he has not spent a whole lot of time reading briefing books trying to bone up on the substantive stuff a president needs to know, but he's had time to read D'Souza's hit job. It's kind of like an internist deciding to make a mid-career change to cardiology and the first thing she does is read a book by Michael DeBakey's valet about how rudely DeBakey treated his staff.

  12. I'm not sure that's a workable definition of birtherism. First of all, the President is different, or to put it another way, just like all of us, he is unique. Some people think he's in a good way, some people think he's different in ways that don't matter, and others think he's different in bad ways. If the definition of birtherism is pointing out how the President is unique or different, then just about all of us are birthers. Even if the definition is restricted to pointing out how the President is different in a bad way, then Hillary Clinton was a birther during the last presidential primary.

    While I can't agree with your defintion, I do agree with your conclusion--there are lots of crazies who are birthers and want to be pandered to, and yes, we are in for a long two years.

  13. Serious question, one I don't even have any suppositions about- why is Huck's quasi-birtherist comment getting so much attention? Besides getting some facts kinda laughably wrong, it doesn't seem to be of a different character than what a dozen other prominent conservatives have said.

  14. @Colby

    None of those other conservatives so far have been front-runners for the 2012 Republican nomination.

  15. That's true, I guess I just feel that given how many of these conservatives have said it, it was inevitable that one of the frontrunners would go there- and Huck was probably one of the most likely candidates.


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