Jewish Journal


March 11, 2011

Playing With Fire


Frequent, and even occasional, readers of this blog know that Community Advocates avoids the “Chicken Little” theory of human relations, that is seeing any hint of criticism or negative comment about minority groups as indicative of deep seated bigotry. Our op/eds and blogs over the past decade are replete with analyses that tend to grant the benefit of the doubt to comments that could be interpreted either benignly or negatively.

That outlook makes this column especially difficult to write.

We firmly believe that tolerance and broad- based acceptance of differences have become ingrained in American life and that other than loonies on the fringes, appeals to bigotry generally fall flat. Yet the recent rantings of two likely candidates for the presidency suggest that there that must be some utility in skirting the edges of bigotry and stereotyping when it comes to our first African American president.

Governor Mike Huckabee’s recent “misstatement” about Obama having been raised in Kenya and imbibing Mau Mau ideology is transparently false and could be ascribed to sloppiness. But Huckabee has continued down the same path of denouncing Obama’s otherness with a manifest lack of concern about the media and how he is being perceived.

In an interview, after the Kenya flap broke, Huckabee commented in response to a questioner who expressed concern, “that there may be some fundamental anti-Americanism in this president.” The governor didn’t dismiss the insidious allegation of anti-Americanism (Robert Welch and the Birchers would have been proud) out of hand. Rather, he began his response with, “that’s exactly the point.” He proceeded to opine that Obama’s vision of history is “very different from that of most of the people who grew up in the United States, and I have said many times, that he has a different world view.” Huckabee then informed the listeners that Obama’s world of “madrasas” is a very different one from that of Boy Scouts and Rotary meetings. Obama is cast as the outsider, unlike “conventional” Americans.

Notwithstanding the pounding that Huckabee took in the press for his “Obama was raised in Kenya” remarks and their factual inaccuracy, Huckabee and his advisors think there’s an advantage to pursuing this line of attack—-Obama as a foreign, surreptitious, un-American “other”.

Newt Gingrich, another all-but-declared candidate, is following the same line of attack. He decries Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” mentality. 

It’s fascinating. Maybe they are sharing the same pollster, one who suggests that the only viable attack on the popular Obama is to paint him as an outsider who pretends to be a “real” American. He may sound like us, he may look like us but he’s really not of us because of that Kenyan father and the few years he spent overseas. He can be thought of in the same synapse with black militants (Mau Mau) and Islamic radicals (madrasas); the subtext is all too clear.

I don’t recall Huckabee questioning Mitt Romney’s American bona fides because of his years living overseas—as a nineteen year old Mormon missionary in France (I suspect they were short on Boy Scouts there and Rotary meetings might not have been omnipresent either.)

Given all the polls that have shown tolerance and acceptance becoming the credo of Americans, it’s distressing to think that there must be polling metrics out there which suggest that this kind of politics pays off.

The good news is that pundits, both right and left, decry this nastiness for what it is. Joe Klein in Time, writes that “Huckabee’s crude use of these canards should disqualify him from the presidency; his statements can’t merely be dismissed as book tour Huckabucking.”

Yesterday, George Will joined the outraged. In concluding a piece on Huckabee’s and Gingrich’s comments, he writes,

So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.

I share Will’s belief that there is, indeed, a “sensible American majority” that will reject these not so subtle appeals to bigotry.

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