I don’t know about you, but I like my Republicans shrill, vaguely racist and relentlessly accusatory. I was thus terribly disappointed when Newton Leroy “Newt” Gingrich left the House of Representatives in 1998, leaving that body unable to pursue its constitutionally-mandated function of investigating the President’s real estate deals, campaign financing and extramarital affairs in an endless attempt to remove him from office. Fortunately, President Bush assumed office shortly thereafter, and the Republican Party coincidentally decided that executive privilege was extremely important. Now, though, we have Barack Obama, a man “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.” That was Gingrich’s assessment of the President in a recent edition of the National Review, and it’s one of the least crazy things he says in the interview. The real money shot is after the jump, and it’s the subject of today’s Close Reading.
In an interview with Robert Costa, Gingrich cites this genuinely hateful Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, in which D’Souza claims that the title of Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, suggests that Obama inherited his worldview from his father. D’Souza elaborates:
So who was Barack Obama Sr.? He was a Luo tribesman who grew up in Kenya and studied at Harvard. He was a polygamist who had, over the course of his lifetime, four wives and eight children. One of his sons, Mark Obama, has accused him of abuse and wife-beating. He was also a regular drunk driver who got into numerous accidents, killing a man in one and causing his own legs to be amputated due to injury in another. In 1982 he got drunk at a bar in Nairobi and drove into a tree, killing himself. An odd choice, certainly, as an inspirational hero.
Thanks for pointing that out about my father who abandoned me in early childhood, dick. It’s a heartless argument, even by D’Souza’s standards, but Gingrich runs with it. As he tells Costa:
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]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.
At last we reach the text for our Close Reading. It’s short, but it’s packed with more dog whistles than Eva Braun’s overnight bag. Oddly, though, they’re a mix of the academic and the down-home racist. Let’s start with the obvious.
Gingrich begins with the classic “what if,” a device which alerts the listener that A) he is about to say something awesome, and B) he reserves the right to disclaim responsibility for it later. Like “some argue” and “many question,” “what if” invokes a sort of privileged speech: the right to advance ideas with no warrant for their basis in fact or even decency. We have entered the realm of Just Sayin’ Stuff, and Mr. Gingrich wants to make sure we all agree on that.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can get to the real business at hand: establishing divisions between us and them. Obama is outside “our” comprehension, and the only way “you”—the good American auditor—can understand him is if you try to understand “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Exactly what Kenyan behavior is—and how we determined the set of typically Kenyan actions in the context of the US presidency—goes unexplained.
It appears that the only really Kenyan behavior is having a Kenyan dad. Obama never lived in Kenya and only saw his father once after age three, so whatever Kenyan politics he inherited from him were transferred biologically. That, of course, is Gingrich’s argument—you can’t understand President Obama because he’s black.
Obama’s behavior isn’t just Kenyan, though; it’s also anti-colonial, which is the dissonant note in this children’s recorder recital of dog whistles. Colonialism is an academic concept. That suits Gingrich, who wrote his PhD dissertation on—hilariously—”Belgian Education Policy in the Congo.” Unlike his fellows in racist conspiracy theory, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, Gingrich is respected by the intellectual wing of the conservative movement. His use of phrases like “anti-colonial” and “predictive model” are a nod to the Strauss aficionados, reassuring them that he’s adopted the rhetoric of the Tea Party but not the reasoning.
Of course, “colonial” is not usually considered a good thing, just as Kenyan is not usually considered a predictive model. Gingrich’s claim that his half-formed racism constitutes an “accurate, predictive model” is pure hokum. Thus far, his assessment that the President is an anti-colonialist African has predicted nothing—certainly not his continued involvement in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, to say nothing of our ongoing protectorship of various foreign nations. It’s not like Gingrich successfully predicted that Obama would let go of Guam.
When the former Speaker of the House says “predictive,” he really means “explanatory.” In this sense, his model is airtight, since it explains any behavior by the twin propositions that A) we real Americans can’t comprehend Obama’s reasoning because B) his black father makes him completely alien. It ascribes all behavior to a totalizing and essentially unknowable nature, which is itself a function of ethnicity. That’s a resilient way of thinking, and it’s no surprise that student-of-history Gingrich has trotted it out. After all, it’s worked for the Ku Klux Klan for 150 years.