Barack Obama and Defining Anti-Americanism
By Selwyn Duke
If Barack Obama sought to win the votes of Germans, he need seek no more. Of course, his new image was all the rage in the Old World long before he gave his July 24 speech in Berlin. Senator Sweetness and Light is the man the Europeans want as our leader.
Although Obama certainly has a stateside cult following as well, one reason Americans’ enthusiasm pales in comparison may be that we – at least some of us, anyway – can decipher his words better than foreign-language speakers. As to this, there is a certain segment of the Berlin speech I’d call your attention to:
“I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.”
It might be pointed out to Senator Obama that if he finds a perfect country, he should be sure not to go there.
For then it will cease to be so.
But allow me to lend further perspective. Imagine that you gave a speech in which you “honored” your mother and said:
“I know my mother has not perfected herself. At times, she has struggled to keep the promise of fairness for all of her children. She has made her share of mistakes, and there are times when her actions around the town have not lived up to her best intentions.”
Wouldn’t this strike you as odd? My first thought would be, wow, you really must not think very highly of your mother. After all, since we’re all sinners, it goes without saying that no one is perfect. So why would you feel compelled to state the obvious about her?
It could only be because you consider her unusually flawed, so much so that she falls outside the boundaries of normal human frailty; thus, a disclaimer is necessary before homage can be paid. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re embarrassed by someone – or something – you’re obligated to praise, when you feel the object of the compliments is, relative to others, unworthy of unqualified laudation and that rendering such would tarnish you. It’s kind of like if you needed to defend a brother on death row or who had been convicted of rape; since he was guilty of heinous acts, you’d feel compelled to issue an “I know he has fallen from grace, but . . .” statement. It is the most a good person can muster when talking about a bad one.
And Obama’s “but” came right after his disclaimer, as he said:
“But I also know how much I love America.”
Note that he didn’t actually reveal how much.
Lest I be thought a hypocrite, I agree with G.K. Chesterton’s sentiment, “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.'” I’ve often lamented America’s intoxication with sin, issuing indictments of various aspects of our declining culture. Yet the difference is context.
It’s one thing to point out what our country could do to become superior to its former self, but quite another to preface such counsel with the implication that it’s inferior to every other nation. In the first instance you’re talking about making a relatively good thing better; in the second you’re talking about why a relatively bad thing might at least deserve some scraps from the table of man.
Of course, honesty is a virtue. So if Obama really believes America is that bad, shouldn’t his words reflect that? Yes, without a doubt, but being honestly wrong is not a virtue. Remember that Obama was speaking in the nation that birthed the Holocaust, a Maginot-line away from that which spawned the Napoleonic Wars, not too far from the land of the Stalinist purges, and just across the North Sea from an empire that colonized much of the Earth. In this drunk-on-power world, Senator Obama, do you really believe your motherland is an embarrassment?
Getting back to mothers, mine often instructed, “Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public.” I mention this because Obama also rendered more explicit criticism of his beloved nation, asking:
“Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?”
This is, of course, an allusion to our military’s use of waterboarding during coerced interrogation. And, to be fair, I don’t say good people cannot oppose it. Journalist Christopher Hitchens actually volunteered to undergo the procedure and emerged firm in the conviction that it is, in fact, torture. This warrants consideration as Hitchens, for all his militant-atheist zealotry and faults, has been nothing but honest regarding the war against Islamism.
Yet, as per my mother’s injunction, there is a time and a place for criticizing family – this includes national family. Obama can argue against waterboarding, but it should be done in-house, not overseas in front of a throng of screaming, anti-American foreigners.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Obama’s implication that America is uniquely damnable is that he was oblivious to it. Sure, you may say that few would connect those dots, but that is what makes the remark so telling. It’s one of those unthinking comments that give you deeper insight into a person’s heart and mind.
To fully grasp this, understand where Obama is coming from. This is an individual who sat in pews for 20 years and imbibed the preaching of a man who disgorges sentiments such as “G*****n America!” and calls her the “US of KKKA!” Wouldn’t it strain credulity to say that such a politician doesn’t have a negative view of his country? Even Oprah Winfrey, not a woman known to wrap herself in the flag and belt out “The Star-Spangled Banner,” left Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ after being assailed with such vitriol.
They say that how a son treats his mother speaks volumes about his character. We should bear this in mind when evaluating Barack Obama, this son of America who is lauded by Europeans. There are people who just wouldn’t issue the “my country has not perfected itself” disclaimer, and then there are those who would. In the cases of those who utter it instinctively – the son of America and his brethren – it’s an example of a very common phenomenon: Defining anti-Americanism downwards.
To the left, America is the black sheep of the world, that brother who raped the Earth and only escapes death row because he is also the law. To leftists, a statement like Obama’s is patriotic – thoughtful, honest, introspective patriotism. Self-flagellation is a sign of enlightenment (although, leftists never actually whip themselves, only the “country,” which is the bane of humanity because of regrettably-live conservatives and thankfully-dead white males). It is the “Of course, we’re not perfect” meme. It has become Bolshevik boilerplate.
In other words, leftists have lowered the bar for patriotism and raised it for anti-Americanism. The bile of a Reverend Wright, well, it is anti-American (but understandable and excusable); it is a bridge too far. But their confession-of-sin disclaimers are no-brainers because the United States really is a bad country, and they’re positively charitable when they follow-up with mention of her few redeeming qualities. It’s the most a good person can muster when talking about a bad homeland.
The question is whether any of this will hurt a candidate who racks up style points like Yves Saint Laurent. Many citizens don’t even care what Obama actually says, never mind what must be inferred. Even pollster Frank Luntz asserted that we have to give him credit for capturing the imaginations of 250,000 people in Berlin. Perhaps, but it occurs to me that he isn’t the first ambitious orator to capture the imaginations of a quarter-million Berliners.
Style can be blinding, but I suspect that Americans who actually pay attention to substance won’t be quite as taken with Obama’s rhetoric as Otto the Old Worlder.