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Identity Politics

Watching a certain segment of the right descend ever deeper into obsession with Obama’s place of birth*, I remembered that I predicted that a fixation on Obama’s identity would become one of the consuming passions for many conservatives during his time in office:

As the election campaign has already shown, the most powerful, widespread opposition to Obama from the right centers around his identity, his associations and what these are supposed to tell us about him. We can expect constant obsession with Obama’s biography and associations to preoccupy most mainstream conservatives for the next four years, so that the names Raila Odinga and Tony Rezko will become for another rising generation of conservatives what Paula Jones and Mochtar Riady were to mine, which is to say they will become the distractions that will consume most of Obama’s critics and keep them from focusing on more serious problems with his administration (whatever those might turn out to be).

I made my predictions last October by taking for granted that conservatives would go into opposition against Obama in the same way that they did against Clinton, and they would do this because many unaccountably believe that their opposition tactics were successful in the ’90s. One of the similarities between conservative responses to Clinton and Obama is how deeply and viscerally most conservatives seem to loathe the man, regardless of his policies, and how a presumption of some unusual degree of malevolence and dishonesty informs their reactions to everything he does. This not only puts them deeply at odds with an overwhelming majority of the country, who may have deep reservations about his policies but find it difficult to work up the concentrated disgust that many conservatives feel, but it also makes them less interested in persuasion, policy alternatives and effective argument. Focus on scandal and controversy is a sure sign of an opposition that cannot or will not do much else. It is also a sign of an opposition that has little hope of winning back the public’s trust.

* It is probably just a matter of time before they begin questioning whether he was, in fact, born as a human or instead grown as a Cylon copy. After all, this “raises serious questions” that Obama needs to put to rest!

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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