What Gingrich Meant When He Called Obama an Anti-colonialist

by A. Jay Adler on January 6, 2011
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Certainly you recall it. We had some discussion of it here, and here, and here, and here. The curious question at the root of the whole discussion was what it means at this p0int in history and the evolution of world culture to call someone an “anti-colonialist” and mean it as a pejorative? What does it tell us of the world view of the person so using the term? We might call it a kind of ideological revanchism, and as much as the GOP is driven in its policies to reverse a century of progressive social policy, so too is it motivated to reaffirm Western imperialism. Witness:

One of the first acts of the new Republican-controlled House is to take away the floor voting rights of six delegates representing areas such as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa.

Five of those delegates are Democrats, while one, from the Northern Marianas Islands, is an independent.

The GOP decision to rescind the ability of delegates to vote on amendments on the House floor was the predictable outcome of a longtime party divide. Democrats extended the voting rights in 1993 when they controlled the House, Republicans disenfranchised the delegates when they became the majority in 1995 and Democrats restored delegate rights when they regained control of the House in 2007.

I won’t focus on the apparent trench political maneuver of denying six probable opposition votes in the new congress, because that is not really a meaningful consideration.

The partisan battle has always been as much about political symbolism as the actual ability of delegates to influence national policy. Under the Democrats, delegates could vote on the floor on amendments – in what is known as the Committee of the Whole – but not on final passage. And their votes came with the stipulation that they could not change the outcome of a vote.

Well, just what is that symbolism?

Republicans have long argued that the Constitution, which says the House should be made up of representatives chosen by the “several states,” rules out voting by non-state delegates. The office of new House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday said Boehner “continues to believe . that delegates should not vote in the Committee of the Whole because they constitutionally cannot vote on the House floor.”

“It’s very apparent to me that we need to focus on the Constitution and (under the Constitution) states are to be represented in the House of Representatives,” said House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif.

Ah, it’s the Constitution – that’s the thing. But the GOP respects the role of the courts in our democracy, does it not?

Democrats counter that, when Republicans sued to reverse the 1993 extension of voting rights, two federal courts ruled that Congress had acted within constitutional bounds. They also point out that the delegates represent U.S. citizens who serve in the military and are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not only citizens serving in the military overseas, but the residents of Washington D.C. are long disenfranchised citizens too. But D.C. is a constitutional anomaly, a mess in our own house long overdue for clean up. Foreign territories, though, governed by the United States and populated by people who are not citizens of the nation – should these not give “the greatest democracy in the world” pause? Yes, they all have complex histories. Puerto Ricans have been long conflicted and divided about how they wish to resolve their history with the U.S., and as a first principle we should be guided by what they want.  In the meantime, does it not behoove us not to rule, but to govern in partnership and respect – not to make a point from the very start of taking what is, to begin, so little away? If the Constitution still rated the descendants of African slaves as three fifths of a person, would Boehner and the GOP argue for day-to-day adherence to that constitutionalism while we sought to overturn it?

There are reasons the Republican Party isn’t called the Democratic party.

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