American idiot

>> Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The other day, when I did a "Batshit Crazy Quote Of The Day," I had a comment from Nathan, who wrote:

Ya'know...when I saw it was a quote of the day, I thought you'd be going after Newt for that whole "Obama thinks like a Kenyan Anti-Colonialist" bit. But Bolton's cool too! He does have the most terrifying moustache in public life!

To which I responded in part:

Newt's comment about alien Kenyan anti-colonialists wasn't batshit crazy in the sense that I'm pretty sure Newt doesn't believe it and was choosing his words carefully in order to throw crazy right-wingers a bone while coding it in such a way that it's not necessarily self-evidently racist, if you know what I mean. (I.e. it is self-evidently racist, but it's nuanced in a way that won't be apparent to Newt's intended audience and in a way that gives him and his pundits plausible deniability.

What I didn't realize when I replied to Nathan was that Gingrich didn't actually invent the whole insane "anti-colonialist Kenyan" thing. No, it seems he stole that riff from inesh D'Souza. Now, I stand by what I said about Newt, which is that the bastard is taking a play from the Lee Atwater Book Of Style, but I have to admit that Nathan's absolutely right about the Mad Kenyan theory as it pertains to D'Souza.

I also have to admit that when I went and read D'Souza's original article in Forbes, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, I'm short of topics this week and D'Souza's piece sort of begs for death. On the other hand, David Weigel makes a good point over at Slate when he writes:

...that's the answer to the "Why publish D'Souza?" question. It should be obvious by now that there is literally no conservative argument too "crazy" to be obsessed over by liberals. Every time a new one surfaces, they try to run it out of the mainstream by drawing extra attention to it. In 2008, Obama campaign's strategy was to refuse to comment on rumors or conspiracy talk—until the campaign launched a Web site in June devoted to debunking all of it. In 2010, the Democratic strategy is to freak out, all the time, about everything. It's not going so well, but that's largely because the economy isn't going so well, either., the D'Souza article is so profoundly retarded that one boggles a bit at where to begin responding, or whether to respond at all, or whether to call Human Services.

I realize that's a little bit ad hominem, though probably not quite as randomly ad hominem as:

But instead of readying us for the challenge, our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.

...and also, the D'Souza article is really, really bad.

I mean, if D'Souza's article was a movie, it would be Southland Tales, is how bad it is. As in, it's a pretentious, hacky piece of work created by somebody who suddenly discovered the material that might be covered in a freshman college course but thinks it's novel and unique because he also thinks he's precociously smarter than anybody else, so he piles it all together with an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink attitude and ends up creating something that makes the audience feel physically aware of the IQ points that are being leeched away witnessing it (although there are a few rabid, cultish fans who will evidently throw themselves under a train for the culprit responsible for either work). D'Souza's piece isn't merely idiotic, it's mind-numbingly idiotic, which is a bit strange since the brain itself purportedly lacks sensation altogether.

I mean, consider this section, f'r'instance:

I know a great deal about anticolonialism, because I am a native of Mumbai, India. I am part of the first Indian generation to be born after my country's independence from the British. Anticolonialism was the rallying cry of Third World politics for much of the second half of the 20th century. To most Americans, however, anticolonialism is an unfamiliar idea, so let me explain it.

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."

Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors. This dependence is called neocolonialism, a term defined by the African statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909--72) in his book Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, writes that poor countries may be nominally free, but they continue to be manipulated from abroad by powerful corporate and plutocratic elites. These forces of neocolonialism oppress not only Third World people but also citizens in their own countries. Obviously the solution is to resist and overthrow the oppressors. This was the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. and many in his generation, including many of my own relatives in India.

What you have, there, is a journalist explaining to the presumably-reasonably-well-educated readers of Forbes an idea that is covered in, oh, I don't know, every single frosh History class in America, probably. Actually, I think colonialism and indigenous responses to colonialism might even be covered in high school. Granted, not every American gets a lot out of high school, or even finishes high school, much less goes to college--so maybe D'Souza is onto something when he says, "To most Americans, however, anticolonialism is an unfamiliar idea," maybe he's on to something; but how many of those under-educated folks are reading fucking Forbes magazine?

Mind you, this isn't even a political thing. I don't think you have to be sympathetic to anti-colonial sentiments to understand that that's a motive force in the world. It might be sufficient to be over the age of fifty, actually, since anti-colonialism was frequently a plot element in spy thrillers and television shows like Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent) in the 1950s and 1960s. Hell, people: just a second ago I was talking about college and high school education, when it may be sufficient to have been old enough to pick up a motherfucking newspaper during the Vietnam War to have some ideas about what anti-colonialism is, etc., regardless of whether you felt the North Vietnamese were nationalists fighting for unification or bitter bastards exacting revenge on people who just wanted to promote and protect freedom and democracy throughout the world.

But let Uncle Dinesh explain it, because he grew up in Mumbai which is out near Hawai'i somewhere (I'm told).

Oh yes, by the by, that's part of D'Souza's argument: not just that he knows of whence he speaks because he grew up in Mumbai, but that he can really get into President Obama's shoes because Obama didn't spend much time in America:

The real problem with Obama is worse--much worse. But we have been blinded to his real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama's own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years--the first 17 years of his life--off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.

Jesus wept.

D'Souza writes like a man who is challenging the reader to decide whether he is being deliberately, infuriatingly dense by design or is merely the victim of a childhood spent tearing strips of leaded paint from the walls of his home and stuffing them into available orifices. For instance, I have a love/hate relationship with this paragraph:

More strange behavior: Obama's June 15, 2010 speech in response to the Gulf oil spill focused not on cleanup strategies but rather on the fact that Americans "consume more than 20% of the world's oil but have less than 2% of the world's resources." Obama railed on about "America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels." What does any of this have to do with the oil spill? Would the calamity have been less of a problem if America consumed a mere 10% of the world's resources?

...which I love for its sheer insane fatuity and hate for... well, much the same reason. Anyone of even moderate intelligence should understand the point the President was making: that reliance and overuse of oil increases the probability of disasters like the Gulf spill. Well, hell, why not let the President's actual words speak for themselves:

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

Keep in mind, you don't have to agree with the President to understand his point. I happen to agree with him, but, you know, you can still see what his point is even if you think oil spills are an acceptable risk or that we're nowhere near peak oil or that clean energy is overhyped or fiscally irresponsible or whatever, or perhaps you might not disagree with the President in principle but think that using the Gulf spill to contextualize energy problems is counterproductive or problematic, whatever; what's a bit harder to do unless you're a total idiot or merely pretending to be a total idiot is to say something like, "What does any of this have to do with the oil spill?"

The paint-eating seems like a more credible possibility when you read hallucinogenic passages from D'Souza like this gem:

The climax of Obama's narrative is when he goes to Kenya and weeps at his father's grave. It is riveting: "When my tears were finally spent," he writes, "I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America--the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago--all of it was connected with this small piece of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain that I felt was my father's pain."

In an eerie conclusion, Obama writes that "I sat at my father's grave and spoke to him through Africa's red soil." In a sense, through the earth itself, he communes with his father and receives his father's spirit. Obama takes on his father's struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause. He decides that where Obama Sr. failed, he will succeed. Obama Sr.'s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.'s hatred; his botched attempt to set the world right defines his son's objective. Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father's struggle becomes the son's birthright.

I have no idea how we go from Obama poetically describing mourning his old man at the graveside to some kind of resurrection of postwar, mid-20th-Century, Third-World nationalism. It possibly makes sense to D'Souza, unless he's channeling William Burroughs, in which case I take it all back and Dinesh D'Souza is the single greatest literary talent in the Western world since George Orwell left us.

But does it make sense to Newt Gingrich, or is he merely cynically using D'Souza as intellectual cover for various dog whistles? "Hey, I'm not the one calling the President a dusky, foreign, American-hating socialist, I'm just telling you what I read in Forbes." Or do we really even need to choose? A sensible hypothesis tending towards validation as a theory is that Newt Gingrich is an ignorant, cynical jackass who will say anything to add a few seconds to his fifteen minutes, so you know, maybe the correct answer is all-of-the-above.

Of course, perhaps I'm guilty, too, in a way. I mean, I've just sat and written a longish blog post about this idiocy in spite of the fact that it might have been better to just leave it alone and hope people forgot about it. Of course, I'm not looking to be famous, or at least not for this. I'd rather be famous for my zombie erotica, honestly. (You think I kid; well, necrophilia is a worthier subject than Dinesh D'Souza's cognitive processes, believe me.) But I needed to write about something, get a few words in, the fiction's stalled and I need another blog entry: so, here I am, exploiting the afflicted, giving attention to Dinesh D'Souza. In a way, it almost makes me feel the way I felt back in law school when a woman I had a major crush on took me to see Wesley Willis, a mentally-ill singer/spoken-word-artist fronting an eponymous band who stood onstage channeling his demons; on the one hand, it felt sleazy because it was hard to ignore the fact that this guy onstage probably needed to be hospitalized somewhere and here's a crowd getting off on his demented id and products of his battered psyche, on the other hand he was clearly enjoying himself and this was obviously a way to turn his health problems into a form of art that brought him relief he probably wouldn't have had getting doped to the gills in a state mental hospital distinguishable from 19th-Century bedlams chiefly by the existence of modern sanitation. Or, put another way, critiquing D'Souza's essay is a little like watching really skanky porn where you're not sure if the money some high-school dropout from a broken home is being paid for bukkake somehow absolves you of your culpability for not taking the tape out of the machine and burning it.

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 16th, 2010: The Economist has a fucking brilliant takedown of D'Souza applying D'Souza's own "logic" to D'Souza. It's well-worth the look. (H/t to Vance Maverick over in the comments thread at Edge Of The American West!)

FURTHER UPDATE: Also worth a look: this piece at Easily Distracted in which D'Souza receives a mighty smiting. E.g.:

D’Souza’s understanding of anticolonialism in this article isn’t even wrong. It reminds me of that rare (around here, at any rate) annoying undergraduate writer who produces unanimous amused disdain among professors of any ideological or pedagogical slant, the kind of student who simultaneously:

a) very obviously did none of the assigned reading;
b) makes shit up based on a garbled mixture of stuff they overheard drunk adults at their parents’ parties say, stuff that their junior high school sports coach/history teacher/fringe political activist used to say, and stuff they kind of remember seeing on Wikipedia somewhere;
c) adopts a rhetorical pose that is 50% bombast and 50% faux-erudition.

It’s the kind of stuff that barely qualifies the writer to be a forum troll, let alone published in a mass-circulation magazine.

Again, worth the look!

ALSO: And yet another....

Considering how atrocious D'Souza’s argument is, why spend any time answering it? For one thing, when nonsense like this isn’t countered it tends to gain traction. Another reason is that conservative pundits and writers such as D'Souza have been indulging in so much evidence-free, ideological babbling for the last two years that many of them now seem convinced that this babbling is actually extremely serious, insightful commentary. If we are going to have anything remotely resembling an honest or informed debate over foreign policy or anything else during the remainder of Obama’s time in office, arguments like this one have to be knocked down.

I'M JUST LOVING ALL THE ONLINE COMMENTARY: Science fiction legend Frederik Pohl responds to Newt Gingrich's regurgitation of D'Souza's essay here, and it's worth reading because Pohl is just all kinds of awesome. Part of Pohl's blog post is a reminiscence--he has to admit Gingrich was kind of a personable guy when he met him, though Pohl loathes Gingrich's politics--but he also points out:

Newton Leroy Gingrich’s latest I’ll-say-anything-for-a-headline proclamation is really pretty weird. What he says is that in order to understand President Obama’s political activities you have to know that Obama is really acting according to Kenyan, not American, political practices.

Actually, I think that's pretty dumb. I’ve read a lot on the subject, and I've been there myself, but I couldn’t tell you how Kenyan political practices are different from those of any number of other little countries that are trying to figure out just how their new democracy thing should work, and I really don't think Gingrich could pass a test on it himself. I’m pretty sure that the real purpose of that press release was actually a somewhat slimy one. That is, his intention was to reinforce that preposterous Tea Party nonsensical claim that our president isn’t an American at all.

I'm reasonably sure D'Souza couldn't pass a test, either. Anyway, again: worth the look (plus you should be visiting Pohl's blog regularly anyway, so here's a reason to drop by if you aren't).


timb111 Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 10:23:00 AM EDT  

"bukkake" Somehow I learn more about weird sexual practices reading blogs than I ever did in High School. Also, weird political practices. And you're right there does seem to be a correlation.

Nathan Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 3:35:00 PM EDT  

Now, I'm sorry I mentioned it. My head hurts just trying to follow the logic(?)

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