Sunday, September 26, 2010

The great imposture

How did he get to be president?

When a relatively young man with a rather slender résumé rises rapidly to high station, one naturally looks around for an explanation. We ask ourselves questions. How did an outsider of mixed parentage so swiftly climb the ladder to executive office? Is there a powerful sponsor—some éminence grise—hovering in the wings? Might some discreet special-interest group be pulling strings from off-stage? We watch in stunned admiration as the object of our consideration showers us with lofty prose and high-minded aspirations.
“If this young man expresses himself
in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man
this deep young man must be!”
The cynical individual (and here I must raise my hand) will think that surface appearances are misleading and that a special agenda is operating behind the façade. And, indeed, that is exactly what I think when I contemplate the career of Dinesh D'Souza and his curious ascension to the presidency.

The presidency of The King's College, that is.

D'Souza is the house intellectual of the right-wing political movement in the United States. The same sponsors who cozened the Hoover Institution at Stanford University into giving an academic niche to someone whose educational credentials top out at a bachelor's degree in English from Dartmouth must have been very persuasive to have subsequently wangled his appointment as president of a liberal arts college. As a westerner myself (in many ways), I have no problem with the professed devotion of The King's College to the Western canon. There's a lot of good stuff there that is sometimes neglected in the attempt to be trendy or modern—or evanescent. On the other hand, The King's College appears to be one of the right wing's political madrassas. (And, yes, I'm using that word with the same gratuitous implication of extremism that conservatives use in their sententious invocation of the term. Although perhaps the connotation is not so gratuitous in the instance of a college resurrected through the efforts of Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ.)

The new president of The King's College specializes in thinly-sourced screeds that fully satisfy the longing of their target audience for intellectual respectability. D'Souza's expository work is like a Glenn Beck conspiracy theory—but with a human face. At their base, they're equally base.

For reasons difficult to comprehend, the San Francisco Chronicle saw fit on Friday to give D'Souza half a page in its editorial section to promote his latest conspiracy tome. The Roots of Obama's Rage is published by Regnery, which tells you all you need to know about its intellectual honesty. In making the best use of his newshole to hawk his book, D'Souza homes in on an episode that proves that President Obama is a liar—at least on the level of “proofiness” one expects from the likes of D'Souza and Regnery.

In Dreams of My Father, Obama recounts an episode from his life as a youngster in Indonesia. He was somewhere between six and ten years old, sitting in the lobby of the American embassy while waiting for his mother to take care of some business she had there. Here is D'Souza's summary:
Obama tells us that he was thumbing through an issue of Life magazine, when he came across a story about a black man who underwent chemical treatments to lighten his skin. Obama notes that the man looked sickly, like “a radiation victim or an albino.” He remembers with almost clinical precision his horrified reaction.
It's a creepy story, but not a surprising one. Hair-straighteners and skin bleaches were pushed on the black community during the twentieth century for those who wanted to fit better into the world dominated by white standards of attractiveness.

D'Souza notes that the Chicago Tribune decided to track down the original Life magazine article and determined that it did not exist. When asked about the discrepancy, President Obama surmised that perhaps the article had been in Ebony or some other magazine.

“Actually, no,” says D'Souza in a pithy conclusion.

Really, Dinesh? How do you know? While Obama's recollection of a childhood experience appears to be flawed and no matching article has been found in any back issue of Life or Ebony, did you miss the “some other magazine” suggestion? We don't know and the president doesn't remember what was stacked up in the waiting room of the American embassy in Indonesia in the sixties. We have hardly eliminated all possible sources, but D'Souza's standards of scholarship are such that he regards this as proof that Obama is a liar.


Research is so much easier when your conclusions are known in advance. (Ask any creationist, for example.)

In case you forgot, D'Souza is the fellow who still describes himself as a Catholic despite his routine attendance at a Protestant church. (If it were a Catholic church, Dinesh could go to confession to own up to bearing false witness, but then I guess he wouldn't need to—not for that, at least.) At best, this is a case of the pot calling the kettle not black enough.

D'Souza is relentless in pursuing what he regards as this prime example of presidential prevarication. (No wonder he's happier during Republican administrations: there's so much more to work with!) He grandly announces that he has figured out where Obama got the skin-whitening story:
He found it in [Frantz] Fanon and altered the setting and the facts to invent a personal experience instructive about American racism. Barack Obama, meet Tawana Brawley. Obama's bogus racial incident is reminiscent of the Brawley case, in which Brawley fabricated a story about being a victim of racist assault.
Fanon was writing about a paleness fetish in northern Africa. D'Souza apparently believes that this must be Obama's original source material because no comparable incidents ever occurred in the United States. (In America, we keep our Negroes happy and dark. At least, I guess that's what Dinesh means. I hesitate more than D'Souza does in reading the minds of others.)

So this is where he ends up: comparing a misremembered childhood incident with a deliberate hoax by a young woman who cooked up a racial assault to cover up for staying out too late. Again one wonders: how did he ever become a college president?


wstachour said...

Why worry about details? The important thing is to find some way to catch Obama in a lie, or to find what the faithful will accept as a credible story of finding Obama in a lie.

And this garbage is now inescapable in most newspapers--scandal and titillation sell. Cultivating anger makes money, but at the cost of credibility. Newspapers are dying, on their way to becoming AM radio, cheap rags filled with Rush Limbaugh's hate.

It seems pointless to say D'Souza is beneath contempt when he seems to speak for so many people. What's beneath contempt is us. Us and our stampede of stupid.

Liz Ditz said...

You had me going there for the 1st para.

Madrassas. Good.

Johnny Vector said...

Heh. In the fourth paragraph, where I'm sure you typed "village idiot", it got auto-corrected to "house intellectual". Funny!