Sometimes it's best to think of racism as intellectual laziness. That is, it reflects a failure to evaluate people for who they actually are, because it's easier to slip them into a familiar, predetermined category that doesn't upset other related conclusions a person might have come to as a result. For whatever reason, elements of the right have chosen not to evaluate Barack Obama based on his actions or his policies but through the kind of postmodern literary interpretation that wouldn't make it through the vetting process of a freshman bong circle at Wesleyan. In these retellings of Obama's personal history, the president's life is an epic, Marxist, sinister version of a Joseph Campbell-style heroic journey, with its hero ultimately falling, like Anakin Skywalker, to the dark side of the force.
Emerging from his sinecure as president of a small religious college in New York, Dinesh D'Souza, who has been laundering the racism of the right through an "intellectual" filter since his days at Dartmouth, gets back to where his career began. In an essay for Forbes, he concludes that the animating philosophy of the president is "Kenyan anti-colonialism." The purpose of the essay is to synthesize the most idiotic conservative criticisms of Obama into one handy term:
It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.
For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.
This is birtherism with big words. This is the witchdoctor sign without Photoshop, WorldNetDaily without the exclamation points. D'Souza doesn't need to stare at Obama's birth certificate for hours to come to the same conclusion as the birthers, which is that the president is a foreigner. But neither is "Kenyan anti-colonialism" a superficial term. At once, it engages all the racialized elements of the conservative critique of Obama -- not just that having an African father means he isn't really an American but that his inner life consists of a deep anger toward white people, and the office of the presidency is merely the means to secure a collective payback. It also manages to nod in the direction of another conservative racist meme, that having a black president makes the United States somehow analogous to African Third World countries run by bloodthirsty despots. Newt Gingrich took a break from his clownish Islamophobia this weekend to embrace this idiocy and drew a much harsher reaction, in part because we're still so silly about race in this country that we're still disarmed when a person of color makes a blatantly racist argument.
Some people have already asked how an American like D'Souza disparages anti-colonialism, but it's simple really: African self-determination is seen by many in the West, particularly conservatives, as tragic in comparison to the idealized "stability" of white rule. "Kenyan anti-colonialism" manages to say at once that Obama is a black, incompetent despot who is out for revenge against whites and who will destroy the country in the process. This is profoundly racist on its face. Yet it's the cover story in Forbes magazine.
Of course, it isn't just racist but idiotic. D'Souza's grasp of policy is shallow as a puddle of piss in a dark alley, but it's safe to say that someone self-identifying as an "anti-colonialist" would not be escalating an American war in central Asia or claiming the authority to use the entire planet as a target range for flying robots armed with cruise missiles.
If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting financial regulation, then Scott Brown is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, then Michael Bloomberg is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting health-care insurance reform, then Ben Nelson is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. The Center for American Progress is a Kenyan anti-colonialist think tank, MoveOn is a Kenyan anti-colonialist advocacy organization, and Peter Orszag is a Kenyan anti-colonialist intellectual.
All of which to say is there's no need to parse the ethnic origins or political philosophies of Obama's parents to understand the ideology of Barack Obama. He is a center-left Democrat who supports mainstream Democratic policies. But some conservatives don't want to talk about policy. They are unable to engage in an argument with liberalism on substantive terms; they know only argument by epithet. They want to talk about the fact that our blackety black president is blackety black. It has been two years since a black man was elected president of the United States, and for a group of conservatives clinging to their cultural superiority, this was a moment of apocalyptic existential crisis, a moment that refuted all they had come to know and understand about themselves, about black people, and about this country. D'Souza is writing for them, the same kind of audience he has always written for.
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