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Bolton on Obama

Via the dunderwhelpish gabbling of one “Melanie Phillips”, I learn that John Bolton, moustachio’d former US “ambassador” to the UN, has described Barack Obama as post-American:

Mr. Netanyahu’s current government had, until last week, strived to stay close to President Barack Obama. That strategy would have been entirely sensible if Mr. Obama were simply another president in the long line since Franklin Roosevelt who vigorously asserted U.S. national interests, championed our friends (especially beleaguered ones), and kept alliances strong. But Mr. Obama is different.

He is our first post-American president. He looks beyond American exceptionalism and believes that our role on the world stage should be merely one nation among many. ((WSJ preview; full text here, eg.))

There is a difference, of course, between arguing that Obama’s policies are somehow post-American-exceptionalism, and saying that Obama himself is post-American. The insinuation blatantly is that he is not really American, a notion that will doubtless give succour to “birthers”, racists, and other nidiots. Indeed, one might even suspect that the phrase is designed to do just that, to act as a little slow-fused bomb of hatred and contempt secreted within an ostensibly rational discussion of foreign policy in a broadsheet newspaper. I don’t recall any Republican wingnuts arguing that, say, Bill Clinton or Al Gore were not actually American; presumably there is something about Obama other than the colour of his skin that renders the accusation more relevant in his case, though I cannot right now think what it might be.

What are you post–, readers?

  1. 1  Bartholomew  March 18, 2010, 1:01 pm 

    He’s actually writing a foreword for a book on the subject by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, entitled The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America:

  2. 2  hardindr  March 18, 2010, 7:04 pm 

    I don’t recall any Republican wingnuts arguing that, say, Bill Clinton or Al Gore were not actually American

    Chris Matthews said about Al Gore after 9/11, “[he] doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even.” Matthews isn’t a Republican wingnut, but still.

    Also, there were crazy claims that Bill Clinton was a traitor because he went to the USSR on a Rhodes Scholarship during the Vietnam War and became a KGB asset, and that Clinton gave the PRC military technology in exchange for campaign donations in 1996.

    Republicans in general try to paint Democrats as being “Un-American.” Obama is just the latest recipient of such treatment.

  3. 3  Steven  March 18, 2010, 7:32 pm 

    #1 — amazing, thanks.

    #2 — I think there’s a difference beteween un-American (or anti-American), as in working to undermine America, and post-American, as in just not being American.

  4. 4  Andrew Bartlett  March 18, 2010, 8:15 pm 

    Have I got this right? The accusation of being post-American is an accusation that Obama in his role of President of the US is behaving as the same kind of statesman as the Prime Minister of the UK, or the Chancellor of Germany, or other leaders of modern civilised states, and that this is bad because the President of the US ought to be behaving as if he were the God-King of an Empire that suffered from a kind of national-level sociopathy?

  5. 5  Dave Weeden  March 18, 2010, 8:21 pm 

    @1 not the Atlas Jugs Pamela Geller? author of the looniest blog ever? Hmm. Video of her interviewing John Bolton and her on US tv arguing with Ronald Reagan’s son. It will be interesting to read the reviews of any book she writes. I would not recommend reading it oneself. (After all, her blog is free. And a little is more than enough.)

  6. 6  sw  March 19, 2010, 3:58 am 

    Steven @3 – John Bolton, a man of such ferocity that he nailed a small woodland creature to his upper lip, has done something a little different. Unamerican is actually ambiguous: it can mean an American who is not living like an American, not living up to what an American should be, an American who is anti-American and so on, but it can also mean not-American. Post-American retains some of that same ambiguity, except it then sheds the connotations of McCarthy: though hardindr @2 is right that Republicans have engaged in a perpetual, unwavering rhetorical assault against their opponents as unpatriotic traitors, most have jettisoned unamerican. Bolton is offering them an evolution step beyond unamerican, one which will not be instantly rejected as so much 1950s claptrap, that fits a modern niche, but that owes much to its recent ancestor.

    But I don’t think that’s it exactly.

    Those of us who remember battling on the front lines of the early 1990s culture wars might be sensitive to a sneering allusion to post-modernists. But I don’t think that’s it exactly either.

    Exactly what is it? Maybe Bolton is also referencing something else. Something that does, as you point out, bring up the spectre of race. What other “post” relates to Obama? Well, Obama has been much heralded as the leader of a Post-racial America, a place where race is not an absolute: it is not an absolute state, it is not an absolute prohibition. Bolton turns this around. He doesn’t say Obama is “Post-racial”; he says Obama is “Post-American”. The question is, What does that mean? Well, it’s a fairly loud dogwhistle to disgruntled whites; it’s the implication, as you say, that Obama earns a special place in the pantheon of the unAmerican. And, given Bolton’s bugbears of choice, does it speak to something else, something that hasn’t really been effectively discussed – implicitly alluding to the racism that has so many white American Christians “supporting” Israel?

  7. 7  NomadUK  March 19, 2010, 9:06 am 

    Andrew@4: Yes, that’s about it.

  8. 8  richard  March 19, 2010, 3:42 pm 

    Matthews isn’t a Republican wingnut, but still.
    I don’t really understand the analytical value of the term Republican wingnut. Could we perhaps agree to call Matthews a free-for-all wingnut? Or maybe just a nut?

  9. 9  redpesto  March 19, 2010, 6:51 pm 


    Well, it’s a fairly loud dogwhistle to disgruntled whites; it’s the implication, as you say, that Obama earns a special place in the pantheon of the unAmerican.

    Perhaps he means ‘When the African-Americans and the Hispanics and all the other non-whites/non-WASPs finally outnumber white people and take over the country’, though I wonder whether a female Democratic President would be ‘post-American’ in a dogwhistle to white straight males.

  10. 10  Craig  March 22, 2010, 5:32 pm 

    I think I’m post-Melanie Phillips.

    To be honest, I don’t find “post-American” to be the most incredible thing in this statement. Instead, I find the fawning phrase ‘American exceptionalism’ to be quite incredible. Nationalism and xenophobia all wrapped up in one handy little phrase: to be American is to be exceptional, and to be anything else is to automatically be inferior.

    Perhaps Melanie Phillips is revealing herself as a self-hating post-Brit?

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