As Aziz and other long-time readers must know, I am not normally in the business of providing positive spin for Republicans. Given my criticisms of the dangers and problems of nationalism for conservatives and for America, and considering how unsympathetic I am to partisan tribalism, I would have thought it was clear that I was not saying anything very flattering about Birthers by saying that this obsession was a function of blind partisanship and nationalism. As I thought I made clear, this obsession is a more exaggerated, bizarre expression of equally baseless fears about Obama’s insufficient Americanness and his supposed lack of devotion to Americanism. These fears continue to prevail among most mainstream conservatives and Republicans, and they inform a large part of the conventional Republican criticism of Obama’s conduct of foreign policy. If this is my idea of positive spin, what would the negative spin look like?
Agreed, and the implication that I thought Daniel was giving Birthers some kind of pass is regrettable. I apologize. My point of disagreement with Daniel here is that he thinks nationalist tendencies are the primary cause, whereas I think it’s essentially racism (and a variant of the Obama = muslim meme). Daniel goes on to argue (read his post in full!) that my assumption of racism relies on sterotypes about southerners and conservatives, and fails to take into account post-9-11 political nationalism.
I don’t dispute the existence of the Americanism he has (as a true patriot should) been warning against for years, but I think that all of what he describes can be necessary for Birthers to exist, but still not sufficient for them to exist. Again, I invoke my own counterexample not of John McCain (which Daniel raised in his earlier post) but John Kerry – had Kerry won in 2004, and had similar birth circumstances as either McCain or Obama, would the Birthers exist? How you answer that hypothetical will probably be a good predictor of whether you think racism is a primary factor in Birther-ism or not. I do not see how you can answer “No” to it and still fail to conclude that racism is their primary motivator, however – though if that is indeed what Daniel would argue, I am eager to see his reasoning.
I cant agree with Daniel that my opinion that Birthers are racist is grounded in stereotype of southerners. Yes, Birthers are geographically concentrated in the South and in predominantly Republican strongholds; my argument that Birthers are racist just means that racists find a hospitable environment therein, but that isn’t a blanket condemnation of the people there as a whole. Its politically-opportunistic racism, to be sure – but Republicans are after all the party of Alan Keyes, Bobby Jindal and Michael Steele.
However, (to echo Daniel’s own point about Americanism) it’s not Obama’s skin color so much as his blatant and proud foreign affiliation that generates the racist response. Obama is authentically Other in a way that Daniel has also acknowledged Jindal is not. I wonder if Jindal were from Pakistan rather than India, and had photos of him wearing traditional “muslim” garb in circulation, whether he’d still be immune to Birther or “crypto-muslim” smear campaigns. Obama affirms and repeatedly references his Kenyan heritage and quotes the Qur’an to the muslim world; Jindal for want of a better phrase has expunged all traces of his ethnicity from his public persona. To put it bluntly, Obama rubs his Otherness in everyone’s face whereas Jindal tucks it away out of sight. In many ways, Daniel’s own observations about why Jindal is immune only serve to support my primary claim of Birthers’ racism – racism is sometimes colorblind, too.