Aziz Poonawalla thinks that my earlier post on Birthers was an attempt to “put as positive a spin on this as possible,” which seems a strange way of reading what I wrote. As Aziz and other long-time readers must know, I am not normally in the business of providing positive spin for Republicans. Given my criticisms of the dangers and problems of nationalism for conservatives and for America, and considering how unsympathetic I am to partisan tribalism, I would have thought it was clear that I was not saying anything very flattering about Birthers by saying that this obsession was a function of blind partisanship and nationalism. As I thought I made clear, this obsession is a more exaggerated, bizarre expression of equally baseless fears about Obama’s insufficient Americanness and his supposed lack of devotion to Americanism. These fears continue to prevail among most mainstream conservatives and Republicans, and they inform a large part of the conventional Republican criticism of Obama’s conduct of foreign policy. If this is my idea of positive spin, what would the negative spin look like?
Assuming that racism is the central or overriding element behind this obsession, as Aziz does, is the easiest move in the world, but it is not necessarily accurate. It is a ready-made answer that in this case relies on a number of prejudices about Southerners, conservatives and attitudes towards race that are largely outdated, and it is an answer that fails to take account of the potency of political ideology, partisan attachment, and a particularly assertive, aggressive post-9/11 nationalism that took over much of the right in the last eight years. The insistence that Obama was born outside America, or that he must be in some way foreign, may be the only way for extreme Americanists to account for how someone born here and raised for almost his entire life in the U.S. could come to have views that they regard as un-American and anti-American. Those who have elevated the nation into a sort of church or religion, and those who are most attached to this kind of national idolatry, cannot abide the idea that the President–the secular high priest of their religion–believes what Obama believes (or, just as important, what they imagine he believes). For the Americanist, this is something like the abomination of desolation.