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In Love with ‘The Other’



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Political commentary from celebrity nitwits is usually good for nothing more than mockery, but Madonna’s recent comment at a concert outside Washington that Obama’s a “black Muslim” actually tells us something. Here’s the whole thing, with some editing:

Y’all better vote for f***ing Obama, OK? For better or for worse, all right? We have a black Muslim in the White House. Now that’s some amazing s–t. It means there is hope in this country. And Obama is fighting for gay rights, so support the man, goddamnit.

Obviously, Madonna doesn’t really think he’s a Muslim (frankly, no one seriously believes he’s a Christian, either), but it’s clear that many of Obama’s supporters want him to be a Muslim, want him to have been born in Kenya. (This is precisely why his publicist advertised him as a Kenyan immigrant raised in Indonesia.) I guess I already knew this, but it really hit home that the greater his “otherness,” the more the post-Americans like him, precisely because they don’t like America or Americans. So the more non-mainstream he is, the more he differs from ordinary Americans, the better.

An adviser to former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s campaign noticed this widespread dislike of Americans among our elites. Political scientist Fredo Arias-King wrote of more than a dozen visits to Washington, where he visited scores of congressman and talked about a variety of bilateral issues, especially immigration. It’s worth reading his whole paper, but this quote sums up what he learned:

Overall, this author also perceived a sense of discomfort by the U.S. political class with ordinary Americans, whom they do not seem, as a class, to appreciate. One could not help but notice a desire by the congressmen to change the “chemistry” of America.

The fact that Obama is half-black is part of his appeal to the post-American crowd, but it’s not sufficient. A conventional black American wouldn’t hold the same appeal for these people — say, Colin Powell or Condi Rice or, among Democrats, say Doug Wilder or Harold Ford. They’re just not post-American enough — different enough. Even Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, is too patriotic, too American for them — evidence for which is that no one would be demanding to see his birth certificate or imagine that he was a secret Rastafarian.

And this suggests that many Obama fans are just the flip side of the birthers. The former like him in proportion to his foreign-ness, the latter can’t imagine America could produce such a radical, so they fantasize that he must be foreign. The difference is that birtherism is a fringe phenomenon on the right, whereas the mirror-image of birtherism — the infatuation with Obama’s otherness — is at the center of the left’s worldview.



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