In the Arena

Huck Fink

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As Jay Newton-Small and Amy Sullivan reported yesterday, Mike Huckabee made a toxic fool of himself on the subject of Barack Obama’s upbringing and heritage:

“If you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.”

Huckabee was never an entirely plausible candidate for President–could we actually ever elect a man who has his doubts about evolution? whose comments about Israel seemed to indicate a literal interpretation of the Bible and the Rapture myth?–but he always struck me as a good guy, more concerned about working-class America than most of his rivals. These comments, however, and his subsequent lie that he really meant Indonesia not Kenya, really show a demented, perverse sensibility, and they demonstrate some of the ugliness at the heart of Obama hatred.

I’m talking about the Mau Mau comment, especially. When I was growing up, Mau Mau was shorthand for: Extremely Scary Black People. The brutality of the Mau Mau rebellion was legendary (and, who knows, perhaps even accurate). It became a term of art in the sixties: to mau-mau was to intimidate white people. (As a young reporter in Boston, I covered a would-be black militant group that called itself, with brilliant irony, De Mau Mau.) To associate Barack Obama with the Mau Mau rebellion is to feed all the worst, paranoid fears of Glenn Beck’s America–and, as any sane person knows, completely ridiculous.

But with Newt Gingrich–who endorsed Dinesh D’Souza’s obscene theory that Obama had internalized his father’s alleged view of the world even though he met his father only once, briefly, when he was a child–about to enter the presidential race, the question of where and how Barack Obama grew up should be a bright line test for every Republican candidate. If  a candidate is willing to endorse, or equivocate, on these racist fantasies, we of the wildly powerless Mainstream Media Priesthood should shun and shame him or her. At the very least, a candidate who seeks to run against Obama should know where and how Obama grew up: in Hawaii, with a four-year detour to Indonesia, raised mostly by his white, Republican, Kansan grandparents.

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