Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Customarily Stupid

Steve Benen (who was nice enough to reply yesterday to an email I sent him and is thus now my favourite blogger EVER, which I freely admit is totally pathetic) reads this column in the Washington Times and detects more than a hint of offensive commentary. The topic, rather depressingly, is how Obama's willingness to bow to foreign dignitaries (literally bowing, not in the sense of capitulation) is proof that he just ain't American enough.
He stopped just this side of the full grovel to the emperor of Japan, risking a painful genuflection if his forehead had hit the floor with a nasty bump, which it almost did. No president before him so abused custom, traditions, protocol (and the country he represents).


But Mr. Obama, unlike his predecessors, likely knows no better, and many of those around him, true children of the grungy '60s, are contemptuous of custom. Cutting America down to size is what attracts them to "hope" for "change." It's no fault of the president that he has no natural instinct or blood impulse for what the America of "the 57 states" is about. He was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream.
Now, it's certainly true that arguing a President with a Kenyan father who grew up in a non-contiguous state lacks the "blood impulse" (whatever the Hell that means) that all true-blooded Americans share is pretty bad, and adding in "Plus, his mom was totally hot for Africans" is simply hideous (you can't be a true American if you find foreigners attractive is literally the least offensive way to take that statement).

Beyond the (extremely) thinly veiled nastiness, though, there's something else that bothers me about this piece. Well, two things; first there's the idea that it is somehow a major screw up for Obama to have bowed to the Japanese emperor and that no other American president has ever done such a thing (whoops!). At the very least if you're going to complain about someone violating custom you should ensure that said custom exists (which by the way is a process which involves more than simply pointing out some people in the past have done it).

Secondly, though, and this is what surprised me most about the whole piece: how is it possible for anyone to argue that someone observing a custom demonstrates a contempt for custom?

There is, of course, a way to reconcile the two, but Pruden either didn't quite have the guts to say it (and what are the chances of that after the whole "attracted to Third World men" comment?) or he didn't notice his argument as it stands if self-contradictory. Pruden's position is only coherent if one adds in the additional idea that is customary for Americans to be contemptuous of all other customs. It's one or the other. You're either for us or against us, and you show you're against us every time you refuse to show you're against anyone else.

This is what the lunatic right has been reduced to, arguing that Obama shows a lack of understanding of American history when he refuses to insult a foreign leader in his own country, and that the only way someone can prove they are aware of the importance of customs in society is to ignore them entirely in everyone's society but your own.

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