February 20, 2015

Obama the Visitor

Interesting Jonah Goldberg newsletter email:
So the question of the moment is whether Rudy Giuliani should be flayed or simply drawn-and-quartered for saying that Obama doesn’t love America. Naturally, this has led to Giuliani being called a racist, because the best working definition of racism in America today is any criticism of Obama that stings.

Kevin Williamson runs through the highlights of what is, by now, a pretty old argument. My own view isn’t so much that Giuliani is right, but that he’s not exactly wrong either.

Look, it was like a week ago that we were talking about Obama’s inability to criticize the Islamic State without first going out of his way to flagellate the West and America over the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, and Jim Crow. Is it really so crazy to think a guy who feels compelled to warn his own countrymen not to get on their “high horse” about child rapists and slavers (who are also beheading and/or immolating and/or burying alive Americans, Christians, Yazidis, and fellow Muslims) might subscribe to an, um, unconventional form of patriotism?...

More than any other president, Obama was raised with a detachedly critical view of America. He grew up abroad and in Hawaii, which is as close as you can get to growing-up abroad and still be in the United States. (Sorry, I love Hawaii, but it’s true.) At school he hung out mostly with the foreign-exchange students from Pakistan. “For years when Barack was around them, he seemed to share their attitudes as sophisticated outsiders who looked at politics from an international perspective,” David Maraniss writes in his biography of Obama. “He was one of them, in that sense.”

Byron York writes in his piece on the Maraniss book:
But Obama was ambitious. Appalled by the “dirty deeds” of “Reagan and his minions” (as he wrote in “Dreams from My Father”), Obama became increasingly interested in, as Maraniss writes, “gaining power in order to change things.” He couldn't do that as an international guy hanging around with his Pakistani friends; he needed to become an American.
So he did. One of those Pakistani friends, Beenu Mahmood, saw a major change in Obama. Mahmood calls Obama “the most deliberate person I ever met in terms of constructing his own identity,” according to Maraniss. The time after college, Mahmood says, “was an important period for him, first the shift from not international but American, number one, and then not white, but black.”
Mahmood, Maraniss writes, “could see Obama slowly but carefully distancing himself as a necessary step in establishing his political identity as an American.”
His early political years involved similar strategic positioning, from joining Jeremiah Wright’s Church to (according to David Axelrod) lying about his opposition to gay marriage. And it paid off. And when he finally burst on the national scene, he could use his detachment to his advantage. Indeed, his whole approach to politics has been, “People of Earth, stop your bickering. I’m Barack Obama and I’m here to help.” The slogan “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” implies the building-up of a seething desire to make this country different than it is and throw off the dead weight of the past. Whenever he talks unapologetically about patriotism, it is invariably in the context of trying to get the country to rally around some new government endeavor (and, more importantly, himself).

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But that’s nothing new. Patriotism for progressives has always been deeply bound up in the role of government and the cause of reform. That’s fine, to a certain extent. But underlying it is the assumption that America as it exists is a problem that needs to be fixed, if not “fundamentally transformed.” And, let’s be honest about it, there were times when progressives had the better part of the argument. But, culturally and psychologically, what endures is the pious progressive conviction that the government is better than the people it serves, at least when the right people are running it -- and that the job of progressives is to bring the bitter clingers up to the government’s ideals, as best they can.

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Simply put, there’s a tension between the desire to change something and loving something for what it is. As I’ve said many times, if you desire something solely for your ability to have your way with it, that is not love; it’s lust.

And for generations, American reformers have argued that there’s nothing wrong with America that being more like Europe wouldn’t fix. Countless leading liberals hate -- and I mean hate -- the suggestion that America is the best country in the world. Just two weeks ago, I think, I linked to this progressive mind-porn from the opening scene of HBO’s The Newsroom. Stephen Colbert’s whole shtick for the last nine years has been to mock people who love this country too much. Indeed, for eight years under Bush we heard that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” -- a profoundly stupid and self-serving bumper sticker of a notion. It’s a very strange understanding of love -- and that’s all patriotism is; love of country -- that its greatest expression is biting criticism, regardless of merit. For eight years, every calumny and slander imaginable was hurled at Bush and the United States, and whenever anyone pushed back on it, we were told that it was patriotic. We just love our country! Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!

How would that work in a marriage?
Wife: How do you like my new blouse?
Husband: It makes you look like a fat filthy whore.
Wife: Now I know you love me!
Husband: Shut up, tramp. You tipped off the Jews about 9/11. You were in on it.
Since president Obama became president, dissent is no longer the highest form of patriotism at all. It’s often simply racist now. Indeed, dissent from Obama and his agenda has arguably become the thing that liberals hate most about America these days. I should also note that since Obama was elected president he’s shown a fondness for apologizing for America and citing himself as proof that America is on the mend. This, too, doesn’t strike me as an obvious display of uncomplicated love. “I’m sorry for my wife, she was raised by carnies. But, you have to admit, it speaks well of her that I saw fit to marry her.”

1 comment:

Thomas D said...

Yes. Yes, oh, yes.

As with most aspirants to the presidency in the last 20-odd years, Mr Obama loves himself and power. He loves ideology. He loves America inasmuch as the scientist loves the lab rat. He finds it useful, one might say.