David P. Goldman, who wrote for years under the nom de plume “Spengler,” is a brilliant and cultivated man; I asked him last year to review a book for COMMENTARY about Leonard Bernstein, and he obliged with a fascinating and tough piece. He is now an editor at First Things, the monthly magazine of religion and public life edited by my old friend and colleague Jody Bottum. We have genuine disagreements, notably about the value of American politico-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that go by the name “nation-building,” but they stem from the same root — a conviction that the West is under ideological assault and needs defending from its Islamofascist enemies.
But Goldman has now, I think, stepped beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste, expressing a sentiment about President Obama that might be explicable in the midst of a beer-and-scotch-addled late-night bull session in a dorm room but not in the precincts of an important publication. At the end of an item on the Iranian nuclear threat and the disastrous condition of American-Israeli relations, Goldman writes:
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.
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.
Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.
Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.
The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. 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.