The liberal blogosphere is all atwitter (ha!) about Mike Huckabee’s claim that President Obama grew up in Kenya. (Huckabee has since issued an implausible disavowal of the statement.) No, Obama did not grow up in Kenya, and yes, that’s a stupid thing for a major political figure to say. But what is of far greater interest to me are the historical presumptions that underwrite Huckabee’s rehashing of Dinesh D’Souza’s claim that the president’s intellectual worldview is centrally motivated by an anti-colonialism inherited from his Kenyan father.
|Mike Huckabee, from his website|
On a conservative radio show, Huckabee raised the point about Obama’s childhood in order to express concern that the president’s agenda, and its attendant philosophy, is entirely foreign to the worldview of the average American. “And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya–his view of the Brits, for example, [is] very different from [that of] the average American. When he gave the bust [of Winston Churchill] back to [the British, this was] a great insult to the British. But…his perspective growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather–their view of the Mau Mau Revolution is very different from ours, because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.”
I want to put aside several items of concern with Huckabee’s statement: the notions that most contemporary Americans have the same attitude toward the Mau Mau uprising (or, for that matter, any view of it at all); that the viewpoint on this subject of someone with Kenyan heritage might not, in fact, be richer or better-informed that that of someone without that background; and that it’s important and valuable that no one deviate from the consensus opinion. Instead, as an historian, I am interested in the claim that Obama’s “view…is very different from ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists.”
I’ve got to admit that I grew up in Indiana hearing pretty much the same thing. And, well, isn’t it true? Weren’t the British a bunch of imperialists? If the British Empire does not represent the very pinnacle of imperialism, then I guess I need to have Mandy Patinkin explain to me what the word actually means.
I claim no expertise on the UK, and this blog focuses on the United States, but Huckabee’s implicit point strikes me as the worst kind of Orwellian historical revisionism. Is he actually suggesting that the British Empire was not an imperialist project? I have a hard time imagining any reasonable person would take such a position. But I also cannot see any other way to read his comment.