With the passage of years, many in the media and even liberal bloggers tend to trace "Birtherism" and other forms of treating President Obama as "non-American" or "the other" or in any case not sufficiently American, to the hard right or the most conservative guests and hosts on Fox News. Yes, it spread well beyond that, but it did not begin in the mainstream, in this view.
Actually, this meme was rooted in establishment media types from the beginning. To cite one episode: Exactly three years ago I wrote a column that is worth re-visiting today (it's collected in my book Why Obama Won, republished this week for the first time as an e-book). Yes, when Obama released his long-form birth certificate this may have cut the Birther movement in half for now, but "the other" beliefs remain in nearly full swing. Here's the column, which features mainstreamers Peggy Noonan and (soon to be more famous) Kathleen Parker. The latter later earned attacks from the right for actually questioning Sarah Palin's fitness to become vice president.
Liberal bloggers and commenters at The Washington Post op-ed section are rightly criticizing a column this week by syndicated scribe Kathleen Parker that questions Barack Obama's "deep-seated" Americanism. But she is only following the footsteps of Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal who raised similar issues three weeks ago -- and was praised by NBC's Brian Williams on The Daily Show for a "Pulitzer"-worthy effort.
Noonan wrote then: “Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem...[H]as he ever gotten misty-eyed over... the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills?”
Henry Ford was a vicious anti-Semite, but no matter. For Noonan continued: “John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa's knee....
“Mr. Obama? What does he think about all that history? Which is another way of saying: What does he think of America? That's why people talk about the flag pin absent from the lapel. They wonder if it means something. Not that the presence of the pin proves love of country -- any cynic can wear a pin, and many cynics do. But what about Obama and America? Who would have taught him to love it, and what did he learn was lovable, and what does he think about it all?...
“[N]o one is questioning his patriotism, they're questioning its content, its fullness.”
No one? And surely not Peggy Noonan. Obama, of course, has spoken about why he loves American often and at great length, if Noonan might have noticed if she was paying attention.
Now, Kathleen Parker, in contrast, borrowed the words of another to set forth her central premise. At least this time she didn't quote someone who suggested that certain liberals be taken out and shot, as she did in a column back in 2003.
She opened this week's syndicated column (she is published in dozens of papers) by quoting 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia who said he backed John McCain over Barack Obama: "His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with 'someone who is a full-blooded American as president.'"
We don't know Mr. Fry, but polls did show that an extraordinarily high number of voters in the recent Democratic primary in West Virginia did -- privately -- admit that race had an awful lot to do with their vote. But Parker assured us, again, that her own views had nothing to do with race:
“Full-bloodedness is an old coin that's gaining currency in the new American realm. Meaning: Politics may no longer be so much about race and gender as about heritage, core values, and made-in-America. Just as we once and still have a cultural divide in this country, we now have a patriot divide. Who 'gets' America? And who doesn't?...It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.
“Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Josh Fry's political sense. In a country that is rapidly changing demographically -- and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century -- there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity. We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants -- and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.”
Parker, of course, ignores the fact that Obama, in fact, is half-white, is related (god help us) to Dick Cheney, and can trace his family back as far as McCain in America -- to George Washington, even. And speaking of "generations of sacrifice": Obama's grandfather fought in World War II.
Those fine small-town Americans may not know any of that -- and Parker sure doesn't remind them. "What they know," she relates, "is that their forefathers fought and died for an America that has worked pretty well for more than 200 years. What they sense is that their heritage is being swept under the carpet while multiculturalism becomes the new national narrative. And they fear what else might get lost in the remodeling of America."
Even Hillary Clinton has "figured it out," Parker writes. Her "own DNA is cobbled with many of the same values that rural and small-town Americans cling to. She understands viscerally what Obama has to study."
After noting other true American values such as easy gun ownership, Parker concludes, "Full-blooded Americans get this. Those who hope to lead the nation better get it soon." Of course, the only half-white and half-native Obama is not "full-blooded." Get it?
As for Parker's support for serve-your-country Americanism, few may remember her 2003 column that attacked Jessica Lynch, another West Virginian, and one who nearly lost her life for the U.S. in Iraq. "What the hell was Jessica Lynch doing in the U.S. Army?" Parker asked. "Regardless of what did or didn't happen over there, Lynch's book, movie and notoriety are not wasted, but offer a cautionary tale: A 5-foot-4-inch, 100-pound woman has no place in a war zone nor, arguably, in the military.
"The feminist argument that women can do anything men can do is so absurd that it seems unworthy of debate. That some women are as able as some men in some circumstances hardly constitutes a defense for 'girling' down our military - and putting men at greater risk - so that the Jessica Lynches can become kindergarten teachers.” She closed by calling Lynch “a victim of the PC military career myth sold to young women through feminist propaganda."
Greg Mitchell's most recent books are The Age of Wikileaks and Bradley Manning. His book Why Obama Won: The Making of a President 2008 -- and Lessons for Today, just re-published this week in e-book form.