A few years ago, I asked a political operative what he did for a living -- as the answer is often less obvious than you imagine.
"We isolate an issue," he explained. "Then we isolate the enemy and we try and destroy them."
If given a chance, politicos will almost always opt to personalize a debate. Case in point: the White House's nonstop efforts to convince voters that John Boehner is really some kind of Sith Lord. (As if we needed to be convinced.)
Sometimes, though, it can backfire. And if Republicans begin incorporating the festering obsession with President Barack Obama's birthplace, loyalties, origins or religion into their official argument, they will have blown it.
Take the tortured contention of noted conservative author Dinesh D'Souza. In a recent Forbes cover story, "How Obama Thinks," he blames the president's "odd" blame-America-first, redistributionist behavior on his Kenyan father's long lost anti-colonial philosophy.
Conservatives have an opening to make an uncluttered argument -- using the empirical data of a terrible economy -- that less spending, less regulation and less government is the way to create more prosperity. Dragging Third World colonialism into it -- and I can say this with near certitude -- is a bad idea on a number of levels.
To begin with, no decent TV-watching American has the faintest clue what you're talking about. And worse, the spurious claims about rampant right-wing racism will now gain fresh traction. That is, I'm afraid to say, the byproduct of bringing Kenyan politics into a perfectly constructive debate about how terrible this administration has been.
This fact is obvious to (SET ITAL) all (END ITAL) Republicans, right?
"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)?" Newt Gingrich, highly impressed by D'Souza's essay, explained to National Review Online. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."
Is Obama really outside your sphere of comprehension? To say you need a predictor to decode Obama's next move is to say that the president is offering us something more than the hard-left agenda the Democratic Party had promised -- rather unambiguously -- when it came to power.
Obama's policies are no more exotic than those of the nearest progressive academic, the angry, union-shilling, purple-shirted sign waver or New York Times editorial board member. There is no whodunit when it comes to "fair trade" or "social justice." There is nothing novel about embracing illiberal "friends" abroad. Nothing unique about redistributive economics or regulatory dictatorships.
It's all standard. And until recently, much of it politically unpalatable.
What about the fellow travelers who voted lock step with the president? Obama didn't write policy that nationalizes health care or bails out states.
Has there been an outbreak of Kenyan anti-colonialist sentiment I'm unaware of?
To psychoanalyze the man's ideological origins and concoct theories is to attach much more credit to these policies than they deserve.
Maybe there is a more obvious answer. Obama's political behavior might be alien to common sense and good government, but it's not alien to the United States.