Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza tweeted his followers before Thanksgiving with what he imagined was a hilarious and irrefutable put-down of President Barack Obama: "I am thankful this week when I remember that America is big enough and great enough to survive Grown-Up Trayvon in the White House!"
In one fell swoop, Mr. D'Souza tied Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager killed by neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman, to Mr. Obama in a way that he hoped would discredit both. As witty commentary has never been his forte, the tweet was greeted by an explosion of incredulity throughout the social media universe.
Many described it as "vile" and "racist," though "puerile" is the first thing that comes to my mind while reading it. It is hard to believe that Mr. D'Souza was once considered one of the brightest lights of the right-wing evangelical world, before he was caught up in an adultery scandal that cost him his job as president of The King's College in New York City last year.
Because Martin was killed at 17, he'll never have the chance to become the "grown-up" in Mr. D'Souza's insult. The disgraced academic attached his dig at Mr. Obama to a meme popular in conservative circles, which holds that Martin was a thug who got what was coming to him. The tweet was a less than subtle reminder of Mr. Obama's sympathetic words to Martin's grieving family.
"When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said this could've been my son," the president said at the time, reiterating a point that lit up the right-wing blogosphere for weeks. "Another way of saying this is, Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."
This was the money quote, as far as Mr. D'Souza was concerned. It was a self-indictment that separated Barack Obama from every other president. The ability to empathize with someone a minority of Americans believe to have been a dangerous thug was all the proof he needed of Mr. Obama's immaturity. That's what made him a "grown-up Trayvon in the White House," as far as Mr. D'Souza was concerned. He decided a pithy tweet implying that there was no "adult" in the White House was long overdue.
Instead of receiving congratulations about his cleverness, Mr. D'Souza was roundly and quickly excoriated. Because Mr. D'Souza is still casting about for a way to make a living, he realized it wouldn't do to have so much hate aimed his way.
Mr. D'Souza deleted the offensive tweet 45 minutes after sending it out. Still, he couldn't resist portraying himself as a martyr in the process: "Feigned outrage on the left over me calling Obama 'grown up Trayvon' except that Obama likened himself to Trayvon," he tweeted.
The intellectual cowardice on display in his follow-up tweet shows how far Mr. D'Souza has fallen since his days as the wunderkind of the Reagan revolution. The contrarian scholar who penned "Illiberal Education" has become the crank who wrote the silly academic jeremiad "The Roots of Obama's Rage" and made the even goofier documentary "2016: Obama's America," a hit job that all but identified the president as the Antichrist in waiting, who would enslave America if re-elected.
Like many crackpots, Mr. D'Souza flirts with "birtherism," the theory that Mr. Obama is a Kenyan-born agent provocateur sent to America by a cadre of African socialists to undermine the pillars of constitutional liberty from within. Mr. D'Souza argues in his book and film that the only way to truly understand the president is to see him through the lens of a Kenyan anti-colonialist ideology he inherited from his long-dead father.
Still, what made me do a spit take when I first read the deleted tweet was the audacity of someone making judgments about anybody's maturity while standing on Mr. D'Souza's morally shaken ground. Mr. D'Souza would be forced to wear a crimson letter "A" on his bosom if he were a character in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, so he really should keep his snarky comments to a minimum until he's able to regain some measure of moral authority.
This isn't to say that an adulterer doesn't have a constitutional right to critique a president who is clearly a better husband than he is. The validity of Mr. D'Souza's arguments shouldn't be based on his moral character, though common decency would compel most people who have fallen from grace to critique others publicly with more humility afterward.
Just because one is an adulterer with a philosophical bent doesn't make one an expert on what it means to be an adult in the White House -- or anywhere else for that matter.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.