At MoJo today, David Corn addresses a conservative meme about Barack Obama that has suddenly emerged from the fringe venues of those who will quite literally accept any attribution of malfeasance by Barack Obama, into theoretically more respectful conservative media: the president as a flirt, a hound-dog, or indeed, that ancient specter of the Lecherous Black Man.

The news hook, such as it is, has been the “selfie” photo taken at the Mandela memorial service of Obama with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron. The conservative tabloid The New York Post immediately went nuts, as Corn describes it:

Rupert Murdoch’s paper led the way with its front-page coverage pitched with this witty headline: “Flirting with Dane-ger.” The next day, Post columnist Andrea Peyser pushed the story—and the already widely spread meme—further. In an article headlined, “Flirty Obama Owes Us an Apology,” she ranted that Obama had “lost his morality, his dignity and his mind, using the solemn occasion of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service Tuesday to act like a hormone-ravaged frat boy on a road trip to a strip bar.” She referred to the Danish leader as a “hellcat” and pegged the needle in sexualizing this story: “Thorning-Schmidt placed her hands dangerously close to Obama’s side. The president’s cackling head moved inches from the Danish tart’s and yards away from his wife’s. Obama then proceeded to absorb body heat from the Dane, which he won’t be feeling at home for a long time.” Meet Obama, the lustful and wild predator who cannot control his urges at a solemn occasion.

As Corn notes, none of this had much to do with facts, since the “selfie” occurred at a festive juncture of a four-hour memorial event; Michelle Obama was joking with Thorning-Schmidt just before the media photo was taken; and there’s zero evidence anything remotely approaching hanky-panky was going on. And while Peyer’s rant was probably as offensive to the principal governing official she referred to as a “Danish tart” as it was to Obama, it’s hard to avoid the impression she was evoking some very old and demonstrably evil stereotypes.

Corn is almost courtly in his hesitance to reach the obvious conclusion:

What is it about Obama that causes conservative critics to question his legitimacy as a citizen and his ability to control his sex drive? (In something of a twist, right-wing agitator Jerome Corsi, a leader of the birthers, has in the last year been pushing a different Obama sex story: The president is secretly gay and once upon a time was actively part of Chicago’s wild gay bar and bathhouse scene.) It is not too far a stretch, when pondering all this, to recall how racists in the past depicted black men as licentious and a danger to women—that is, white women. Is a remnant of that in play when Obama is cast as a lecherous or flirtatious scalawag? There’s probably no definitive answer to be reached here. (Can you—do you want to—peer into the soul of Andrea Peyser?) But the question is real enough that it ought to give commentators and columnists (and their editors) pause before they again revive this Obama Unchained narrative.

Well, maybe there’s no “definitive answer” to what Peyser was up to, other than click-baiting, but this persistent depiction of Obama as stupid, un-American, lazy, promiscuous, or the stooge of radicals adds up to a caricature that would have been familiar at a 1865 Ku Klux Klan rally aimed at purging African-American elected officials and terrorizing black voters. I daresay those who promote any of these memes know exactly what they are doing, unless they are invincibly ignorant of American and world history.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.