Commentary: Newt Gingrich is pandering to rightwing's fringe

Political combatants from both major parties share responsibility for the steady degradation of civil discourse of recent years. Yet when it comes to innuendo, stereotyping and attempts to fan racial prejudices, Newt Gingrich continues to explore new frontiers.

Gingrich's latest dip in the primordial ooze came this week, after he fell in love with a nutty article in Forbes magazine by Dinesh D'Souza, well known for his advocacy of repealing civil rights laws. In this article, D'Souza attempts to argue that President Barack Obama's support for higher taxes on the wealthy is explained by the supposedly "anti-colonial crusade" of his late Kenyan father, whom Obama hardly knew.

Interviewed recently by National Review, Gingrich says D'Souza offers "a stunning insight" into the president's behavior. He called it "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama."

"What if (Obama) is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together (his actions)?" Gingrich is quoted as saying. "This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president."

George W. Bush endured plenty of unfair personal criticism while president — that he was a lightweight, that he was unconcerned about Hurricane Katrina victims. Yet President Obama is experiencing a campaign of innuendo and hate-rumor that is far more despicable.

Spreading their bile over the Internet and talk radio, critics have attempted to portray Obama as something other than a U.S. citizen — an infiltrator, even a sympathizer with Muslim extremists. Recurrent in this whisper campaign is the idea that Obama, as an African American, is bent on revenge.

Rush Limbaugh has helped spread the idea that Obama has a secret agenda of "reparations" and "redistribution." D'Souza, going further, suggests that Obama harbors "the ideology of the Luo tribesman."

Up until now, it was easy to dismiss such rants as the work of the far-right fringe. But Gingrich is hardly a fringe figure.

The former House speaker is hinting he may run for president in 2012. By adopting the language and innuendo of the "birthers" — the groups claiming that Obama wasn't born on U.S. soil — Gingrich apparently hopes to build ties with a segment of voters who might otherwise side with another possible GOP presidential contender, Sarah Palin.

Gingrich's comments are an embarrassment to himself and the entire nation. No matter how they feel about Obama's policies and how hard they attack them, conservative leaders should be willing to acknowledge, as most Americans do, the real story of Obama's rise. The fact that an African American man can rise from difficult circumstances to become U.S. president is something to embrace, not discredit. Gingrich and others appear intent on tearing it down.

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