Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Meet the new Spengler

At the blog of Commentary Magazine, Contentions, John Podhoretz is shocked that First Things blogger David Goldman would say some bizarre things about the Obama family. Such as --

Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

Says JPod --

Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

Those are fine words from JPod, but the only news is that it's news to him that David Goldman says this stuff. As JPod explains, David Goldman worked under the pseudonym Spengler for a few years before going back under his own name at First Things (which is a conservative Catholic journal). Now as pseudonyms are wont to do, his writings prompted all sorts of excited speculation about who the person behind the pseudonym is (e.g. P O'Neill does not actually have a beard). Consider for instance National Review's Lisa Schiffren reacting to Spengler column in what was then his main gig at the Asia Times --

Spengler, the brilliant columnist for the Asia Times, is reputed to be an Australian gentleman of a certain age, with a Ph.D in Anthropology at Columbia University obtained when that was still a first-rate program. He brings a rare level of cultural insight and depth to the discussion, the sort which is so often lacking on the American Right, dominated as it is by economists and those who eschew psychology.

That Australian gentleman anthropologist who brought a worldly perspective to the economist-dominated Right turned out to be ... an economist from New York with a past stint in Lyndon LaRouche's organization. And what column drew such praise from Schiffren? --

Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics. Anthropologists, though, proceed from resentment against the devouring culture of America and sympathy with the endangered cultures of the primitive world. Obama inverts the anthropological model: he applies the tools of cultural manipulation out of resentment against America. The probable next president of the United States is a mother's revenge against the America she despised.

The column is in fact just a longer drawn out version of the same thesis that JPod finds so repellent, with Michelle Obama and her supposed obsession from her Princeton days with "blackness" also in the psycho-anthropological stew. Indeed, as Goldman himself says in the entry that we know JPod read, "I’ve been screaming about this for more than two years". Was JPod the only one on the right who didn't get an e-mail with a link to the earlier column?

UPDATE: Former Bush operative Peter Wehner endorses JPod but says that when he wrote his own call for "civility" last week --

I received a note from a very intelligent friend scolding me, saying, "American democracy is not a library, and we don’t need shushing. The left will pull it’s Reichstag Fire maneuvers soon enough,"

So he has a very intelligent friend who thinks that (1) Barack Obama is Hitler and (2) doesn't know his apostrophes.

FINAL UPDATE: The verdict is in. Joseph Bottum (Goldman's editor), Michael Ledeen, and Jonah Goldberg weigh the merits of the case and don't see that much in Goldman's post to get upset about. Which is an interesting insight into what musings about Barack Obama is deemed within the bounds of respectability.

One interesting theory not quite fleshed out in Bottum's response is that Goldman came onto the radar screen at Commentary not over the above blog post but because he criticised General David Petraeus for linking the USA's problems in the Middle East to its perceived position in the Israel-Palestine conflict: Petraeus was of course making an obvious point but he is also a (perhaps fantasy) presidential contender in 2012 that the more partisan crowd at Commentary may not want out of the running just yet.

ONE MORE THING: Exactly one week before the original Spengler column appeared, Lisa Schiffren had speculated that the marriage of Obama's parents was rooted in Communist agitation and called for --

for some investigative journalism about the Obama family's background,

The meme was in wide circulation in early 2008.

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