I recently read an article in The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/12/gingrich-obama-kenyan-worldview_n_713686.html) slamming Newt Gingrich for accusing Obama of having a Kenyan anti-colonial worldview. Critics have been quick to point out the way in which his statements might fuel further myth-mongering regarding Obama’s status as a natural born citizen. But frankly, I wasn’t much surprised to hear that sort of thing coming from ol’ Newt. I’ve grown to expect that sort of thing by now, and it seemed like typical conservative-racist-bullshit. My interest piqued when I recognized a familiar name. Gingrich cites an essay written by Dinesh D’souza in Forbes magazine, which, in addition to calling Obama’s father an irresponsible drunk with misguided ideals, describes an ideology I subscribe to in surprisingly accurate terms — a bit exaggerated perhaps, but not as far off the mark as I’ve come to expect. (http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0927/politics-socialism-capitalism-private-enterprises-obama-business-problem.html)
What’s shocking to me isn’t so much the fact that conservatives are accusing our very moderate president of being as radical as I am. They’ve been doing that from the start, and although I’d love it to be true, it’s not. No, what frightens me here is the realization that Dinesh D’souza has that much impact on the public sphere. Some background: 3 years ago while compiling texts for my first semester of teaching, I decided to incorporate a conservative counter-balance to create the illusion of even handedness. Only one. I stumbled upon D’souza in a collection called “Re-reading America,” and his essay America the Beautiful: What we’re Fighting for was the exact sort of drivel I needed to set up a straw man. He said that the middle-east was thousands of years less advanced and argued that the war on terror was cultural and religious. He also used the word “we” a lot, and loved to talk about how awesome America is. (AMERICA! FUCK YEA!!)
Later that year he was paid by the young republicans cloud to come speak on campus. He lectured on a book he wrote in the late 90’s called The End of Racism. In a nutshell, he uses his Indian identity as an appeal to authority — justification to slander black culture, call all black people criminals, and proclaim that racism will end when black culture gets its shit together. The first question asked that night was, “what do you have to gain sir, by producing this sort of vile filth.” The white attendants cut black commentators short, took microphones back, tried to impose respect. “Hey! Let him speak damnit!” I yelled. And they did. D’souza’s response to this onslaught? Okay, wait for it…
“Wow, way to tolerate difference. Great job you’re doing with that…” while rolling his eyes.
I still don’t know if he was serious.
What made D’souza delightful was that he was so easy to pick apart. An easy rhetorical egg to crack, as it were. But he is also infuriating — it is as if he read every radical dissenter in the critical canon and then decided he could make more money using them as political canon fodder (pun intended). Usually, I’d just have my class analyze him for logical fallacies. Most of his writing is rife with them. They compliment his appeals to patriotism and shameless stereotyping quite well. He’s proof that sophistry can be a bad thing, and in that respect, I have more respect for Plato than I did last week…
It’s been a long time since the public sphere placed any currency on truth, and deceptive rhetoric, rhetoric in the bad sense abounds. The question is this: does fostering dialogue entail respecting narrow-minded arguments as legitimate? Is the cultural left dispossessed of power by virtue of the right’s willingness to use abrasively deceptive rhetoric? At what point can I feel legitimate fighting fire with fire?