Newt Gingrich Is So Off, He's Not Even Wrong

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Newt Gingrich is so off about President Obama, he's not even wrong. The former House Speaker and potential 2012 candidate said the President exhibits "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior" because he has consciously adopted the East African socialism of his father, Barack Obama, Sr., and, by a bit of wizardry, is applying those principles to the American republic.

Gingrich's observations were based on an article by Dinesh D'Souza, who claims to have found continuities between the President and his father.

Here is the essence of D'Souza's argument:

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. But to his son, the elder Obama represented a great and noble cause, the cause of anticolonialism. Obama Sr. grew up during Africa's struggle to be free of European rule, and he was one of the early generation of Africans chosen to study in America and then to shape his country's future.

...

Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America. As one of Obama's acknowledged intellectual influences, Frantz Fanon, wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, "The well-being and progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races.

...

Why support oil drilling off the coast of Brazil but not in America? Obama believes that the West uses a disproportionate share of the world's energy resources, so he wants neocolonial America to have less and the former colonized countries to have more. More broadly, his proposal for carbon taxes has little to do with whether the planet is getting warmer or colder; it is simply a way to penalize, and therefore reduce, America's carbon consumption. Both as a U.S. Senator and in his speech, as President, to the United Nations, Obama has proposed that the West massively subsidize energy production in the developing world.

Let's take this step by step. Obama grew up in Indonesia. Like any child who did not know his father, he was curious to learn about him. The indictment seems to rest on this assumption alone.

There is no evidence that Obama was particularly curious about East African socialism or anti-colonialism, but it's OK to presume that Obama, reading history, might have agreed that Europeans, did, you know, exploit Africa for its resources. By Obama's own recollection (inherently suspect in his rendering of his worldview, of course), but also by the remembrances of everyone who knew him, he struggled to meld the influences of his African father, his American mother, his Indonesian upbringing, and his biracial status in a still racially divided world.

Before the election, I asked one of Obama's close friends, someone who now serves with him in the White House, to explain how his Indonesian childhood and his identity quest might have influenced his view of America. This person recalled having a conversation with Obama where the topic came up. Obama told his friend that growing up in Indonesia, he came to know the fundamental limits of American power as exercised simply because he saw people whose life America had never touched. He saw a culture (and subcultures) that struggled to become more like America when they began to learn about the great country. Where his worldview is unique, he told his friend, is that he probably has a better sense of what actually happens when America, the country or its culture, touches another people.

So, yes, he incorporated his outsider's view of America into his American view of its power. Arguably, a president with a sense of America's limits -- not negatives, but limits -- is something that a small-c conservative would respect. When Obama speaks about the interests of other countries and is keen on making sure that other countries' peoples feel like they can live in a world with America (and not just against America), the young Indonesian Obama (born, of course, in Hawaii) is influencing the adult American President.

Now is not the time to make the case that Obama's policies are profoundly within the tradition of American political liberalism, or that his health care proposal explicitly rejected socialism, or that the economy was falling off a cliff and even Republican economists wanted a demand-side injection ... or that, perhaps, one of the reasons why Obama is suddenly hesitant about oil drilling is because it turns out that the oil drilling regime is much less regulated than Obama believed when he expressed support for off-shore oil drilling before the BP disaster.

If you're looking for bones to pick with Obama and his policies, try his spending plans, his aim to make government effective and larger, his social liberalism, his unwillingness to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, his infrequent flights of populism, his preference for insurance industry reform (something that, ironically enough, many conservatives have long wanted, or HAD long wanted, because it would preserve the private health insurance system in America), the increase in deficits as a percentage of GDP, perhaps even his involuntary smile when he shook hands with Hugo Chavez -- these are all legitimate. It will be interesting for Gingrich to try to portray the President, who has sanctioned the expansion of CIA and special forces operations worldwide to hunt and kill anti-Western Islamic jihadists worldwide, as somehow blindly obeying a command by his unconsciousness to weaken America because he believes in socialism and in reducing America's power. 

From a global perspective, D'Souza's argument seems to be an effort to legitimize unformed beliefs about Obama's otherness ... to try to create an explanation for what people view as Obama's aberrant conduct that incorporates doubts about his fundamental American-ness.  Newt Gingrich is an intensely smart man given to peregrinations of crazy. He can be a legitimate presidential candidate, or he can be a demagogue. For 2012, perhaps in this political climate, he is signaling that he is going to be both.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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