Behind the Ground Zero Mosque Imbroglio – Obama’s “Zebra Nation” worldview at work

zebraAnyone who listens to Obama’s Ramadan comments on the NYC Ground Zero mosque realizes he was certainly NOT making a legal argument about anyone’s rights.

After all, that argument is about whether the state would interfere with religious freedom and there is zero evidence that that was ever a risk to whomever is really behind this provocation.

So it follows that the proponents of the mosque hardly needed the intervention of the President of the United States to defend their constitutional freedoms.

The President in fact was making an argument FOR the mosque, for its political value in his eyes.  As he says to build the mosque is to assert (his idea of) our political values.

He is wrong about that but let’s at least get one thing clear: that speech was a calculated POLITICAL intervention, on the eve of the most important political period of his presidency. It seems he almost immediately realized the mistake he had made, stepping on yet another racial or ethnic land mine (recall there was first the Henry Louis Gates affair, then the Terror Trial in NYC idea and then Shirley Sherrod, and now the Mosque). That led to his attempt to draw an altogether too fine distinction between rights and common sense the next day.

But he said what he said and he clearly believed it. Watching the video makes clear his conviction and his welcoming of the applause it garnered from the White House Ramadan audience.

So what motivates this President to continually risk political capital in order to take provocative actions? There is a consistency to his efforts, it seems to me. His view is one shaped by the diversity politics of the last 25 years, an effort that represents in the US the larger form of stalinoid, third worldist and authoritarian politics as it exists in a post-Cold War era.

At the core is an attempt by a few to gain political leverage and power by exploiting actual ethnic or racial or class issues in a manner that does very little to resolve those issues but can do a lot to advance the cause of those few.  When the actual Communist Party was somewhat of a force in this country, for example, it used to profess to be concerned about the “black question.” And the party was able to attract many followers around the broad left from the 30s to the 70s because of its apparent commitment to racial equality. That is what explains the affiliation of figures like Paul Robeson or Frank Marshall Davis with the party if not actually in it.

Their line, however, was that racism was a permanent and enduring part of America because America was capitalist and once America was socialist it would then be possible to end racism. I actually heard that line used by CP trade unionists when I was a union activist in the 1980s. The reality, of course, was that the CP was only interested in its own bureaucratic survival and only if that was consistent with the political line of the Russian mother ship. The zig zag nature of the party drove as many thousands out of the party as into it over the years.

Unfortunately, some who were in its orbit adopted even harder and more authoritarian political views. And these began to infect the left as well, particularly in the late 60s and the 70s. This was the period in which people like Mike Klonsky, who was raised in a household that worshipped Joe Stalin, decided he would have to worship Chairman Mao after the Red Army crushed the Czech uprising of 1968. (It apparently never occurred to Klonsky to consider supporting the Czech people themselves! Certainly Mao was no more on their side than Deng’s crowd was on the side of the Tienanmen worker/student uprising.)

Klonsky and his comrades like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in the SDS movement that morphed into a terror cult known as the Weather Underground put race politics in the forefront of their worldview. They actually adopted an even harsher version of the old CP line that America would be racist as long as it was capitalist. For them, “fighting racism” in ever more absurd fashion was the only way to be on the left.

And it was the race-based nature of their politics that Ayers took with him when he surfaced from the Underground and rejoined his former SDS comrade, Klonsky, in a wing of the American world of education policy. There Ayers propagated a revised version of his race politics and recruited Barack Obama to help him carry it out through the $150 mn Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The core of their message was to use the despair of minority and poor parents to attempt to break the power of the teachers’ union and the Chicago school administration in favor of “local school councils.”

This reactionary idea of “local control” of schools by parents was first trotted out in 1968 by the black power movement and SDS in New York City where it led to a very difficult strike by mostly white teachers. When Ayers and Obama got involved in the late 80s they used the same idea to target a largely black teachers’ union relying on the support of hispanic community groups! No wonder they got praise from the Heritage Foundation and support from wings of the Chicago business elite.

Thus the heart and soul of Obama’s race politics, shaped by figures like Ayers and Valerie Jarrett during the Chicago School Wars, was to view America as an indelibly racist nation. Diversity politics fits this mold perfectly because it erases the notion of “e pluribus unum” and replaces it with what some around Obama apparently call “Zebra Politics” – the idea that we live in a “Zebra Nation” with its permanently divided black and white stripes. (As best as I can determine the idea was borrowed, inaptly, from South Africa, a nation which has suffered a very different form of racial division.)

In our “Zebra Nation,” resolution of racial and ethnic division in favor of a genuinely integrated and pluralist nation is impossible so provocative demands are used instead to gain leverage by “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” thus shocking any (white) people from responding or even better clearing the room entirely and allowing control of the space to shift.  Examples abound: calling for open borders with Mexico, waving Mexican flags en masse at immigrant rights’ marches, abandoning the goal of Brown v. Board of Education and integration in schools and housing and instead calling for a return to Plessy v. Ferguson and “separate but equal,” or, in an international context, the so-called Gaza “Freedom” Flotilla.

This same approach is what lies behind the provocation of proposing the mosque in the first place and Obama was clearly intent on riding that sentiment. And that is a way of understanding his use of the Henry Gates situation, the Sherrod affair and the Terror Trial in NYC.

Of course, many on the left fall for this phoney radicalism just as they did in the era of the CP. Then, the CP was really an arm of the Kremlin but posed as a radical anti-racist pro-worker organization. Yet it would not fail to betray its radicalism at the whim of its Moscow handlers. Those on the left today who fall for the apparent radicalism of a Bill Ayers or a Barack Obama or a Van Jones or a Valerie Jarrett should pay attention to what is happening with economic and foreign policy. The same bankers who nearly destroyed the economy remain in power, GM is back after shedding its unruly workers at plants like Fremont, California and the predator drones continue their illegal and deadly flights.