Otherism: Sure Obama is American But He Doesn’t Get America

May 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Mitt Romney: the New Champion of Otherism

Mother Jones analyzes a new point of attack on President Obama: Otherism is the replacement for the multitudinously discredited Birtherism. Otherism is racist white Fundamentalist America’s way of saying “You’re not one of us.”  We’ve never been so relieved in our lives. No, he’s not one of you. And thank the gods or anything else you hold sacred.

At least we have one point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

What’s amusing in all this is the idea of any of these crackers – yes, I did say crackers – thinking they’re one of us. Their outlook has a lot more in common with the attitudes of the Antebellum South that made a black man only 3/5 of a white man than with the post-Civil Rights America of today. When they say “one of us” surely they are identifying themselves with the great racists of the past.

Mother Jones puts Mitt Romney at the apex of Otherism. He accepts Obama’s citizenship. He’s being, so Mother Jones argues, the adult of the group. But “the former Massachusetts governor is still playing footsie with a popular conservative meme: Obama’s not really one of us.”

Otherism can be more virulent than birtherism (Obama is a secret Muslim socialist!) or more subtle (Hey, this Obama guy just doesn’t get America), but the main contention is that somehow he’s not a true American. It’s not a matter of his birth records, but of his attitude.

Romney says, “The Obama Administration fundamentally does not believe in the American Experiment.”

Wow, okay, Mitt. Let’s think about that claim for a moment: It’s easy to prove that Barack Obama was born in America. He has a birth certificate after all. He has a birth announcement. But how do you prove somebody “gets” America?  This argument is subjective; this argument rides on a wave of emotion. And this argument cuts to the core of the differences between the tolerance and diversity of liberalism and conservatism’s status quo.

In a way, it is McCarthyism repackaged. In the 50s it was the Reds who were the targets of Otherism. Sure, the Commies wanted to destroy the great American experiment, but doesn’t Obama? These claims are found everywhere in attacks on the president. The catch-phrase “he doesn’t get America” is really a codeword for “he wants to destroy America.” After all, aren’t the Republicans and Tea Partiers all talking about having to “save” it?

We have to ask what exactly it is they’re trying to save. If the American experiment is government by a bunch of rich white misogynistic and racist males, then President Obama most certainly does not believe in the American experiment. But that’s not what the American experiment is. It isn’t. Sure the Otherism attack is more subjective, but its Achilles Heel is that it retains roots in history, and we can attack their claims at the level of history, dealing as it does with facts.

And Romney knows this. The Republicans know that they’re the ones who aren’t “ one of us”  so they have to attach this label to those who disagree with them instead, and advance themselves as champions of American values one raped woman, one uneducated child, one disenfranchised voter at a time. At the same time, they’ll take care of the factual problems by just re-writing the history books.

That’s the American way of Romney & Co.

Really, we should celebrate Obama’s otherness in this context. We want something that sets itself apart from the status quo, the status quo being, after all, the historical position of conservatism throughout history. No change. More of the same please.

And what did Obama promise us? Change we can believe in.


That’s what liberalism is about, about liberty, about being freed from the status quo. About change.

We can argue all day about whether we got as much change as we thought we were promised. Some progressives will say no. Conservatives like to say no too, that after all the American Revolution wasn’t really a revolution, just a statement by a bunch of conservatives that they wanted maintenance of the status quo, champions of traditional values.

But that’s bull-pucky. David Barton might not know that but David Barton is one of those uneducated crackers who want to push the racist white agenda on America. David Barton, to turn the term around, is not one of us. Neither is Mitt Romney, nor any other Republican candidate you care to name. Their values are not the values of our Founding Fathers.

We all remember Gingrich’s astounding announcement from last year:

What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior… This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.

Statements like this demonstrate a growing sense of desperation among Republican politicians. You’re really grasping at straws when you say something as nonsensical as this. Obama is supposed to be pro-colonial? How is colonialism a part of traditional American values? The Founding Fathers, the guys who ought to have known what traditional American values are, since they were there at the beginning, eschewed the idea of an American empire. And they were most certainly anti-colonial themselves, having just led a rebellion against a colonial empire. But now somehow if you’re anti-colonial you’re un-American?

It’s nonsense. But that’s exactly what they’re arguing. As Mother Jones points out,

Anti-Obama otherists have wrapped themselves in the flag of American exceptionalism, contending that Obama is different because he doesn’t believe that the United States is special and superior to other nations.

For sake of comparison, John Quincy Adams wrote in 1821,

America…goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy…The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. the frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

How do we get from Adam’s sublime expression of America to the Bush Doctrine, to the idea that the United States not only has the moral right but the obligation to attack any country at any time simply on the proposition that country might now or at some future date pose a threat to this country?

As Adams predicted, America is no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

There’s been a normative inversion here, where all the things America traditionally believes in have become un-American and where ultra-nationalistic, fundamentalist divine-providence-driven American exceptionalism has replaced our idealism and pacifism. We went in search of monsters to destroy and became a monster.

And the Republicans want more of the same.

We have become a monster and the colonialism our Founding Fathers fought against has found a home in Republican American Exceptionalism. Don’t be fooled. John Quincy Adams would not be fooled into thinking Mitt Romney is one of us. Be glad Obama is not one of them; be glad that our President, Barack Obama, is an anti-colonialist. That’s just the recipe for the great American experiment that John Quincy Adams and the Founding Fathers ordered.

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