Rudy Giuliani oversold it, naturally. In an attempt to save America from the grip of a president who’d already been in office for six years, or perhaps because he was just desperate to get back into the headlines, the former New York mayor and presidential also-ran said Wednesday, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” And then, to make matters worse, he insisted his remark wasn't racist because Obama "was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people."

"This isn’t racism," he added. "This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism."

On the list of hateful things uttered about Obama by his political adversaries, this one is near the bottom (and that's saying something). After all, Giuliani wasn't questioning Obama’s parentage, nationality, sexuality, or his children’s behavior. By comparison, simply saying the man doesn’t love America seems tame, merely a softer brand of birtherism (a line of attack Giuliani once rejected). It’s clearly part of the permanent conservative strategy of otherizing Obama, of which birtherism was one of the most openly racist examples.

The irony, of course, is that Obama’s childhood and family background perfectly fit the conservative fantasy that Giuliani promotes. Obama was the child of an immigrant and a woman from the heartland, raised partly by a grandfather who helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp while serving our country and a Rosie-the-Riveter grandmother who worked on the Boeing assembly line during World War II. By any Norman Rockwell-ish estimation, that’s about as American as you get.

As a New York Daily News editorial put it:

It is impossible to say which is more appalling:

Giuliani’s willful ignorance of Obama’s heritage (his grandfather served in World War II while his grandmother worked on a B-29 assembly line); Giuliani’s division of the country into right-thinking Americans (Republicans) and unworthy others; or Giuliani’s sense that he had hit on a winning political tactic in poking the hornet’s nest of haters.

And yet, we should not be so surprised; this is what Giuliani does. Rather than seek to mend the racial division during David Dinkins’ term, Mayor Giuliani saw an opportunity, instead antagonizing the city's communities of color. He charged William J. Bratton, the police commissioner then and now, with implementing the ineffective and unjust “broken windows” strategy. And we can’t forget his unflinching support of the New York Police Department in the wake of abuse after abuse—when police sodomized Abner Louima with a broomstick, and when they gunned down unarmed black men like Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond. Now, with words like these about the president, Giuliani is trying to create racial divisions on a national level.

But if we simply dismiss Giuliani's latest remarks as a joke and then move on, we'll miss an opportunity ourselves. His words were "un-American" in the sense that they were an ad hominem attack on a sitting president. In another sense, though, they were quintessentially American. Our country’s history is full of agents like Giuliani who provoke racial strife and spew stereotypes that benefit the privileged class. Obama wasn’t raised with the same kind of "love of country" that Giuliani was because the president grew up as a member of a group whose social mandate from birth, for survival's sake, is to engineer change in a society—to correct the very systemic disadvantage that Giuliani is desperate to save.

Giuliani is probably right: Obama doesn't love America, not the one Giuliani does. But the inverse is true, too: Giuliani doesn't love America, not the one Obama is trying to build.