Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dance, Dude, Dance

It just entered my mind that Forbes magazine published Dinesh D'Souza's piece on Barack Obama's "Kenyan anti-colonialist mindset" simply for the pleasure of watching the liberals fuss about refuting it. The President is so fit to eat with the hogs! He is not anti-colonialist! But wait -- it's good to be anti-colonialist, so he must be anti-colonialist after all! I mean ... It's an entertaining spectacle, one that repeats itself from administration to administration. It happened during the Clinton administration, and it happened in South Korea when the Right there went after late President Noh Mu-hyeon.

It's a mistake, of course, to suppose that the good folks at Forbes are that clever. Back in the early 1970s Philip Roth wrote some hopefully satirical pieces for the New York Review of Books, later collected in book form as Our Gang, which depicted the Nixon White House as a gang of sinisterly knowing conspirators. It was a long time ago, so I can't remember who it was that pointed out that when the White House recordings were released, they revealed the Nixon gang to be a bunch of clumsy, malignant but not very competent thugs who wished they were sinisterly knowing conspirators. Which, considering all the Obama fans who assured the wavering faithful that the President was playing eleven-dimensional chess with his opponents, is a decent fit with the Obama administration too. Obama's problem is that he just doesn't play eleven-dimensional chess very well.

Nor do his supporters. Vide this guy (via), who does a game job of refuting D'Souza's multifarious lies and distortions. In order to do so, though, he has to dredge up some of Obama's lies and distortions. D'Souza claimed that Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism (i.e., is not fit to eat with the hogs). Ryan Chittum has to show that Obama does believe in American exceptionalism (i.e., is fit to eat with the hogs). To which end he quotes the Prez in noxious gasbag mode, showing that Obama doesn't understand (or chooses to misunderstand) what American exceptionalism means (though, like many abstractions, it does have different meanings to different people, which makes D'Souza's charge even more pointless). In practice "American exceptionalism" means the belief that when the US does the same horrible things as our official enemies, it's regrettable but doesn't mean we're bad, because we're different thanks to our historical values, and anyway, while we may have made some tragic blunders, our virtues outweigh our defects. Obama said:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.
That's very nice, though it elides the uncomfortable fact that our troops have not defended the US in my lifetime, and have generally been sacrificed in aggressive wars, killing and maiming millions of people who never harmed the US. Aside from that, any imperialist state makes the same claims. Rome brought civilization to the barbarians. The European invaders of the Americas brought Christianity to the benighted Indian savages who -- typical -- didn't appreciate the Europeans' sacrifices; it's not like they benefited from their thankless mission. Ditto for the English in India, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Belgians in the Congo, the Americans in the Philippines and Latin America. The Nazis sacrificed to preserve Christian civilization from Jews and Communists, taking over France and numerous other countries for their own good. The Soviet Union sacrificed to protect the freedom-loving peoples of the world from capitalist imperialism.
And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

The Constitution may well be "exceptional," though not in the sense meant by "American exceptionalism." And that "core set of values" is honored more in the breach than in the observance, with Obama himself tirelessly working to undermine them. But that's okay -- those values are there to be admired for their exceptionalism, not observed!

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

It would be interesting to know some examples of times that Obama thinks the US has compromised in dealing with other nations. (Other than Israel.)

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

The US has not led the world towards peace and prosperity; it has overthrown or tried to overthrow numerous elected governments, invaded numerous countries or sponsored mercenaries to do the dirty work for us, and imposed destructive and immiserating economic policies that have created poverty not prosperity -- except for tiny elites like those who benefit in the US itself. Only a corrupt, undemocratic regime would collaborate with a murderous invading army, so of course the Obama administration works with the Karzai government while complaining that it's corrupt and undemocratic.

Chittum's comment on this quotation: "Apparently, D’Souza thinks that anyone who doesn’t think we should impose our views on the world or who thinks other countries have patriots, too, is a loinclothed, communist Luo tribesman hiding behind a Western suit and tie." Nice, but Obama doesn't believe that those who fight us are "patriots," or that we shouldn't impose our views on the world, if it's for their own good. I'd no sooner take Obama at his word than I'd take, say, D'Souza at his.

Whether or not Forbes's editors were deliberately being mischievous, they could hardly have been under any illusions about the quality of D'Souza's scholarship. ... Oh, damn, I know, of course they could have. D'Souza keeps getting published, often by liberal or "liberal" publications like The Atlantic, even though he always keeps getting discredited as a liar and a fraud. The corporate media have welcomed right-wing know-nothings all along, treating Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell (among so many others) as competent, responsible commentators and spokesmen, often in the name of "journalistic balance." Just as liberals will fall for the latest well-spoken, halfway young, halfway glamorous politician with progressive-sounding slogans and Republican politics, and defend him energetically against all criticism.

Oh well, it's up to each person to decide how to use his or her energies. But really, is it such a good idea to spend one's energy defending a lying corporate hack who is more concerned with protecting the executive branch against any limits on its power, extending US aggression and terror, and attacking most gleefully his critics on the left? I'd think it would be better to work on finding ways to undermine both the far right (Obama's Bush-era politics) and the extreme far right. Trying to defend Obama against charges that he's a leftist just seems to me to be a distraction.