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September 23, 2010

Race-baiting conservatives accuse Obama of governing in the name of the father

Dr. Anthony J. Hall

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After the debacle of George W. Bush's two-term presidency and the election of Barack Obama, the U.S. conservative revolution ushered in by Ronald Reagan is becoming increasingly fragmented, disoriented and acrimonious.

So outrageous is the racial stereotyping, even in core elements of the Republican Party, that Frum, heretofore unheralded as a voice of moderation, is intervening to turn back the tide of conservative extremism.

Pointing directly at recent actions and statements of conservative stalwarts, Frum writes: “Here is racial animus, unconcealed and unapologetic, and it is seized by savvy editors and an ambitious politician as just the material to please a conservative audience…That is an insult to every conservative.”

The ambitious politician to whom Frum refers is Newt Gingrich. A history professor whose Ph.D. thesis focused on the Belgian governance of The Congo after the Second World War, Gingrich came to political prominence as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Some have looked to this fixture of the conservative establishment as a possible Republican nominee in the 2012 presidential election.

Gingrich earned Frum’s ire because of his theory that the core idea allegedly animating Barack Obama’s presidency is “anticolonialism.”

To support his theory, Gingrich cites an article, soon to become a book, entitled The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza. A native-born son of India, D’Souza has become one of the most prominent voices in the well-funded industry of right-wing think tankery. As Gingrich sees it, D’Souza has come up with the most profound insight he has read in the last six years about Barack Obama.

D’Souza sees the allegedly anticolonial views of Obama’s economist father, Barack Obama Sr, as the primary source of the White House’s governing ideology. Obama Sr., now deceased, is of Luo ancestry. The Luo are one of the indigenous peoples of Kenya. “Incredibly,” D’Souza writes: “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”

D’Souza draws liberally from Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father, an autobiography in which D’Souza finds evidence that both father and son were both heavily influenced by the transformation of many Asian and African countries, including Kenya, from the status of formal colonies to nominally self-governing entities in the 1960s. This decolonization would result in a rough quadrupling of sovereign countries recognized at the United Nations from 51 in 1945 to 192 in 2010.

In his new analysis of Obama’s core ideology, the author simply dismisses as old news the politics of over five centuries of empire building and its consequences. “Colonialism today,” D’Souza claims, “is a dead issue. No one cares about it except the man in the White House. He is the last colonial.”

The effect of this much-heralded anticolonial stance is that we now have a clear and explicit defence of colonial rule emanating from the heart of the Republican Party.

This defence of the building and maintaining of empires flies in the face of all the mountains of information we have amassed about imperialism’s legacy of genocide throughout the Americas, the terrible inhumanity of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the European penchant for territorial expansion that would lead to the killing of tens of millions as the German quest for Lebensraum spilled into the steppes of Russia during the Second World War.

Moreover, the anti-anticolonialism of Gingrich and D’Souza challenges some of the most sacrosanct myths of the United States as a polity born of the anticolonial hostility of the Founding Fathers towards the alleged tyranny of the British Empire.

Precisely because he has lived and travelled in many polities where the indigenous populations more or less take neocolonialism for granted, Obama is aware of the contemporary allure of what D’Souza describes as anticolonialism. However, the problem with Obama is not his anticolonialism but his failure to intervene actively enough on behalf of genuine decolonization.

Frum’s outraged response to the positions of D’Souza, Gingrich and the editors of Forbes places him closer to the anticolonial revolutionary Che Guevara than to those who court conservative favour by arguing that Obama is “too black or too alien,” or that Obama is motivated primarily by “anti-white racial revenge.”

Frum asks: “When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level? [Even segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace] took more care to sound race neutral.”

Frum muses that nothing offends conservatives more than accusations of racial animus from liberals, yet those who seek to inherit the conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan and the Bush dynasty display the worst extremes of racial stereotyping.

How interesting it is that one of the main literary instigators of the wave of Islamophobia sweeping the U.S. would wonder why Newt Gingrich and the editors of Forbes would think that such brazen race-baiting would resonate with their conservative audience!

Dr. Anthony J. Hall is a professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge.

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