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Another look at what may drive Obama’s politics

A few days ago, I linked to an article that seeks to frame some, if not all, of Obama’s political ideas within a sort of anti-colonial setting. It is fair to say that not everyone is buying it, and this article brutally takes on that thesis. And the writer, Heather MacDonald, is no leftie. At all. She writes for the Secular Right blog, which as its name implies, is a site written by those of a generally conservative bent who are not religious and generally regard the Republican Party’s involvement with the Religious Right as not a Good Thing.

She does not pull her punches. And she has a point, although I still think the anti-colonial angle has some traction. It does, I think, explain things such as Obama’s apparent no very great affection, that I can see, for the UK. Even so, in general my take is that Obama is a hard-left politician who has – at least for a while – bamboozled a lot of people into thinking of him as a centrist. But it is worth pointing out that his Big Government views are not really so odd in a nation once ruled by the likes of Roosevelt, LBJ, and for that matter, Richard Nixon (who brought in wage and price controls, let’s not forget).

Anyway, read the whole piece.

26 comments to Another look at what may drive Obama’s politics

  • Ian B

    The problem is, you can never really prove anything about motivations. It’s beyond the realm of fact and proof. Why somebody does the things they do is locked away inside their brain, not available for public inspection. Even if a person externalises their thoughts by saying “I am doing X because of Y”, they may be lying or they may be deluding themself. No person even understands themself fully, after all. I know that I am a libertarian, and I know much of my own history (I have forgotten most of my life of course like everyone else, only storing as memories those parts that some part of my brain, to which I have no access, considers useful to remember). But I cannot really tell you why I am a libertarian. I just am. Some wise analyst may provide a theory of why Ian B prefers liberty to social authoritarianism, but he can never prove it.

    So all we can ever really know about Obama is his actions and his history. What is “driving” him, we cannot ever answer; although it’s fun to speculate of course.

  • Laird

    MacDonald may be correct that D’Souza’s conclusions about Obama’s motivations are more than a stretch. Certainly the evidence adduced in his article is minimal, but realistically, how much room can there be in such a short piece for extensive citations? I suppose we’ll just have to wait for D’Souza’a book to come out so we can judge for ourselves. But it seems to me that MacDonald could have been a little more temperate in her criticism.

    While the attribution of Obama’s motivations to anticolonialism may be incorrect, or incomplete, the circumstances of his singular background are certainly worth consideration. An early childhood in largely Muslim Indonesia would surely have had an important impact, as would spending the rest of his formative years in Hawaii, an insular island which contains an unusual collection of cultures and is really quite alien to mainstream (and mainland) American heritage. Both have colonial roots, so the inference of an anticolonial predisposition is not as unrealistic as MacDonald would have us believe. Surely this milieu would somehow inform the man’s worldview.

    And even if her argument is correct, that the totality of Obama’s politics is “standard-issue liberalism”, why the extreme animosity of the article? It’s littered with words like “twisted”, “bizarre”, “unmoored speculation”, “ravings”. I can almost see the spittle accumulating on her monitor as she writes; I’m sure the damage to the keyboard was irreparable. She ends up by calling for D’Souza to be banned from the talk show circuit, even fired from his day job. Whence all this vitriol? Aren’t they both, ultimately, on the same side? It’s one thing to disagree with his thesis and quite another to descend to this level of ad hominem attack. Indeed, it seems to me that it is more MacDonald than D’Souza who is displaying an “incendiary brand of irrationality.”

  • D’Souza may have over egged the pudding but his basic point about the lightworking unicorn rider is pretty good. The interpenetration between the western left and the anti colonial left is well established.

    He might have done better if he’d talked more about the activist left in Hawaii during the seventies. The Hawaiian nationalist movement had a definite Blut und Boden aspect to it. The Haole (white) left went along with this out of loyalty to their fellow progressives.

    Its a complex subject and neither Heather nor Dinesh really do justice to it.

  • Jacob

    I see anticolonialism being in origin a propaganda tool of the Comintern – i.e. of Communist Russia. There cannot be a separation between anticolonialism (the idea and the rhetoric) and socialism. They are the same, they are part of one bundle. Socialism propaganda uses anticolonial rhetoric, and anticolonial propaganda uses socialist rhetoric. You can’t really separate them.
    Therefore, D’Souza’s thesis that Obama is more anticolonialist than socialist is nonsense.
    You don’t need the anticolonial angle to explain or understand Obama.

  • “It does, I think, explain things such as Obama’s apparent no very great affection, that I can see, for the UK.”

    Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just that, in the scale of things, the UK simply doesn’t matter all that much to this administration and what it is trying to do.

    This paragraph…

    “But D’Souza’s screed is just the latest manifestation of the rebirth of the conservative hysteria that marked the Clinton era. The fact that both Clinton and Obama’s critics became obsessed with the person rather than his policies suggests that those critics have no faith in the public’s ability to grapple with abstract issues, rather than alleged personal failings.”

    … indicates to me that MacDonald may be missing a necessarily thoughtful look at a pertinent historical reference.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, for sure, I thought McD’s article in terms of her tone, was very heated. Maybe D’Souza once ran over her dog or stood her up for a date, or something.

    She certainly should heed the expression: “Physician, heal thyself”.

  • Alan Peakall

    It’s certainly true that the end of the Cold War reduces Europe’s geopolitical significance to whoever is in the White House, and the UK’s significance relative to that of other European powers, but I think that, at least in part, Obama’s apparent disdain for the UK is a perception of his contrast with left-of-centre (sorry, left-of-center) US politicians of preceding generations. Such politicians naturally inclined to indulgent affection for the UK as it appeared, to them, a model for functioning Social Democracy in an Anglo-Saxon society. By contrast, Obama is of the first generation of US progressives not to be swayed by sentiment rooted in contemporary experience of/exposure to the pre-Thatcher UK, even if (paradoxically) it is against governments of the post-war consensus era that he is presumed to nurse an anti-colonial grievance.

  • Ian B

    Maybe it’s not “disdain”; maybe he just recognises that the UK is not very important any more. Our military forces will be transferring to European Federal Government control soon enough, and with that goes our last claim to be a world power, or even a nation state. You can hardly expect the president of the USA to care much about a particular province of Theeu, when the governments of Theeu and the USA interact directly.

  • Jacob

    Our military forces will be transferring to European Federal Government control soon enough

    And even without that transfer they are far from their past glory.
    You have to face it, honestly. Neither Britain, not the EU as a whole, have any military capabilities at all.

  • Laird

    It seems that D’Souza’s book is already out. I’m downloading the sample onto my Kindle to see if it apprears worth reading.

  • Laird

    I read the free sample (the first chapter, basically). Frankly, it looks like the rest might be worth reading.

  • Laird, can you see if there are any substantial references?

  • Laird

    No, not in this small sample (the footnotes are disabled). But it promises a much fuller exploration of Obama’s history in Indonesia and Hawaii, and of his psyche as revealed in his two autobiographies. D’Souza’s thesis may still be incorrect, but it would seem to warrant closer scrutiny.

  • We will never know if his thesis is correct or not, since we cannot get into Obama’s head – as noted by Ian (IIRC). What I’m interested in are references, because that was the only valid (very valid) point made by that screaming woman. But I understand that one would have to at least browse through the actual book to find out.

  • Owinok

    From what has been published, D’souza has massively overstated the case and to tell the truth, it is all amateur psychology. Interestingly, that did not prevent many from lapping it up.

  • Everything that has been published is based on anything rather than the book itself. That said, all psychology is “amateur”, that is to say based on speculation – it doesn’t mean it can’t be useful.

  • Jacob

    “D’Souza’s thesis may still be incorrect, but it would seem to warrant closer scrutiny”
    A waste of time.
    I don’t think Obama’s psychology is that important.

  • I actually reached the same conclusion after thinking about it for the past couple of days, Jacob. I just asked myself: “would I be willing to spend time – not to mention money – to read this book?” The answer was quite obvious. I think we already know all we need to about Obama, and he doesn’t seem to be that interesting a person (in either good or bad sense) to warrant any further investigation. Not only that, I think politically he’s a gonner too, all the damage he is still bound to inflict in the remaining 2 years accounted for.

  • Ian B

    I personally think that individuals are not so important to our understanding. The psychology of leaders in a clear leadership situation- Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini- is very significant. But the modern Statist move as a bloc. Obama isn’t a dictator, he’s just one of the Left in a position of power, and the policies he enacts are not his particular fascinations, they are the general policies of that bloc.

    I think there’s considerable advantage for us in understanding the attitudes and history of the activist/statist groupings, but Obamas will come and go and there’s not so much utility in understanding them specifically. The ideological leaders of the bloc are not in politics. They in academia, activist groups and NGOs and so on. Politicians are simply implementors of ideas from elsewhere in our current system.

  • Jacob

    …he’s just one of the Left … and the policies he enacts …. are the general policies of that bloc.

    True.
    And he doesn’t strike me as an especially gifted or remarkable person. I’m not obsessed with the color of his skin – which seems to me is what catapulted him into power, being his most notable feature.

  • Laird

    That’s a fair point, Jacob. If Obama were white no one would have ever noticed him; certainly he wouldn’t have been catapulted into the Presidency at such an early age with absolutely no relevant experience. But given that he has been so catapulted he does matter, as an individual, and I can see no downside in trying to better understand what makes him tick.

  • No, no downside Laird, provided you are motivated enough – which I am not. Yes, he does matter because of his position – question is, does speculative psychology (as if there is any other kind) would give us better understanding of Obama as relevant to that position – I doubt it. Still, it sounds like you might read the book, so if you do find it enlightening, feel free to enlighten us as well.

  • Ian B

    Laird, that’s true. But one consideration is opportunity cost. While you’re studying Obama’s psychology, you’re not studying something else which may be more profitable in terms of knowledge :)

  • Laird

    I read fiction occasionally, IanB. Surely D’Souza’s book would be no worse a waste of my time! But, as Alisa says, I have to be motivated enough, and it’s not at the top of my reading list at the moment. Maybe later, though.

  • But then again, when I read something like this, I get the sense that better understanding of the man’s motives is urgently needed, and at least D’Souza’s article, if not the book, seems like a step in that direction. I mean, Obama the new Carter? Ha.

  • Paul Marks

    Barack Obama comes from the Marxist tradition – his life shows this (from his most early years to some of his recent appointments and events).

    And, whilst taking what Ian B. says on board, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that a person’s actions are connected to their beliefs.

    However, D.D. takes this one step further – he attributes Barack Obama’s belief system to that specific type of Marxism that is called “anti colonialism”.

    It should be made clear that this has very little to do with being anti Empires – for example the American Founding Fathers of the United States opposed the British Empire in North American but that (by the definitions of the various academics) that D.D. cites does not make them anticolonialists.

    To be an anticolonialist, one must believe that the world is divided between the exploited and the exploiters – that the exploiters (by their ownership of the means of production) extract surplus value from the exploiters and ……. for further information on this theory see V. I. Lenin “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism”.

    However, one can be a Marxist and not believe that “exploiting” what Mussolini called the “Third World” is actually very important at all. In short one can be a Marxist without believing in Leninist anti colonialism.

    Actually I rather doubt (in spite of Barack throwing himself on his father’s grave and pledging himself to continue his father’s work – without being the corrupt, drunk nonentity his flesh and blood father actually was) that the anti colonialist doctrine plays a big part in his life (sure he had academic guides who were into anti colonialism – but he had a lot of other Marxist guides who were not really into this subset of the Marxist “family” as it were).

    And it certainly should be kept in mind that anti colonialism is not some sort of independent political philosophy (as D.D. seems to imply) – it is a subset of Marxism. Let us have no “tail wagging the dog” here.

    Still D.D. has written a book “The Source of Obama’s Rage” and it is opacked with detailed research – it must be judged on its merits.

    So I suppose I should say “stop reading my comment on this – go read the book, and JUDGE FOR YOURSELF”.

    And I now have typed that.

    “Waste of time” Ian B.

    Not at all – for a start you will help keep D.D.s book at number one on Amazon, and think of how many leftists will be kicking and screaming over that.

    “It is our sacred duty to annoy these people as much as possible”, as a wonderful man used to say.