February 20, 2008

Michelle Obama Is Proud Of Her Country, And That Shouldn't Surprise Her So Much

And she should be. Here are her controversial remarks, in context. It's clear enough to me that this was not an offhand comment, but one that at least a little thought went into. Very little thought, but more than zero:

Um... What's that again, Ms. Obama?

What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud.
This has generated quite a bit of controversy because she said "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." This implies that she had not been proud of America before seeing the enthusiastic reaction to her husband's candidacy. So here she is, "clarifying" her remarks on Chris Matthews:

So let's think about this. We might ascribe the worst possible motives to this confluence of political statements -- Obama's wife and political supporters hate America and want to gain power to drag the U.S. of A. down to subservience to some as-yet-unarticulated concept of international social justice which will trump national autonomy and the Constitution. By extension, then, Obama himself believes these things and is asking for the leadership of a nation that he sees as sufering from a grave moral cancer. That seems unlikely to me. That does not seem congruent with a good-faith understanding of his message.

But if we discard the worst interpretation of this, then what's the best possible motive for this sudden confluence of political symbolism? I mean, what's up with Che? This was not a nice guy; sure, he looked handsome in that beret, but come on. The man was an international terrorist, a man who, along with the Castro brothers, deliberately thwarted the emergence of post-revolutionary Cuba as a democracy through the torture and execution of innocent civilians and democracy advocates who he labelled "enemies of the state."

The glorification of Che can only be the result of colossal ignorance. Whether that ignorance is innocent or willful remains a good question in my mind. I'm not saying that the pre-revolutionary Cuban government was a beacon of liberty and human rights or that Che's enemies (including the U.S.) acquitted themselves with the moral righteousness of comic book superheroes. But none of that justifies annointing Che as a hero. There is no shortage of documentation of Che's use of torture and human rights abuses and no doubt that he considered the United States of America his most profound and powerful enemy. This makes elevating him to be a hero of young Americans a highly questionable act.

So the best motives we can ascribe to the Obama machinery for these remarks are wide-eyed naïveté and political clumsiness. That would mean that these people are not ready for prime time. But they've put together a very sophisticated political machine; literally created it out of nothing over the past two years because the Clintons had closed off all avenues of access to existing Democratic party machinery. So while Obama himself has not held federal office for very long, it doesn't seem right to say this is simply the result of inexperience, either.

I exchanged an e-mail with a politically conservative friend today who, between this remark and the Che Guevara posters on the walls of more than one Obama campaign office, has abandonded his lukewarm willingness to live with an Obama Presidency and become very energized to work for McCain and Obama's defeat. Now, to some extent, I think my friend was looking hard for an excuse to set aside his dislike of McCain. And to some extent, the Che poster was enough. His wife is Cuban and, I expect, unimpressed that Fidel Castro is resigning to let his brother take over the day-to-day repression of her countrymen, including those members of her family who weren't fortunate enough to escape with her parents.

He suggests that the Che posters means that if Obama is the nominee, Florida will wind up being out of play for the Democrats. An exaggeration, but look at the truth it is an exaggeration of -- it's not just Cuban-Americans in Florida who will be viscerally offended by all of this. And Florida is absolutely critical to the McCain campaign.

It won't just be Cuban-Americans because most Americans think that America is a pretty special place. I agree with that sentiment. Now, that doesn't mean I'm looking at the country with rose-colored glasses. I am critical of many things that the U.S. has done and I think that real patriots don't relax their skepticism of what the government does just because it's the government; real patriots don't relax their motal standards just because a bad actor has wrapped himself in the flag. I can understand if the Obamaits are critical of some aspects of our culture. We are far from perfect and we can certainly do better.

If all that were going on here were that the Obamaites were trying to inspire themselves and other Americans to do better and to be better people, I'd think that was perfectly OK. After all, it is entirely possible to be proud of America and still critical of her missteps and moral lapses. But at the same time, the U.S. is a place to be proud of, warts and all. And the overall message from Camp Obama is that America is not a good country, or at least it hasn't been during Michelle Obama's adult lifetime. That is simply wrong.

We've (mostly) defeated communism -- which was a great evil, a great terror to hundreds of millions of innocents, and a great threat to the freedom of hundreds of millions more.

We've kept the world more or less safe and stable since the end of the second world war.

We've subsidized the redevelopment of our former enemies and now they are in many ways even more prosperous than we are -- prosperity which we would never even think of begrudging them, despite the fact that it was developed under the cloak of our military protection, for which they neither paid for nor bled. We did it for two generations and didn't even ask for a "thank you."

Not only have we kept the world safe, we've fed it. American innovations in agriculture and transportation are responsible for the delivery of wholesome food to formerly-starving people all over the world.

Our universities and colleges and research institutions still represent the very pinnacle of human knoweldge and scientific inquiry. Go ahead -- name the top ten research institutions in the world. I bet a majority, or more, of the institutions you've picked are in the United States.

When new nations are born, as Kosovo was this weekend, they look to the United States Constitution for inspiration about how to organize their own governments. They look at other nations, too -- the UK, France -- but their primary source of inspiration is the system of representative, republican democracy that our Founders created in the 1780's. That most American of icons (although it was a gift from France) is the Statue of Liberty and it, too, is emulated all over the world, to this day. There's a reason for that, and despite whatever misdeeds we may have perpetrated recently, there's also a reason that people want to come here from elsewhere, and it ain't just the money.

So the problem is not that Michelle Obama made a careless remark. That wouldn't be a big deal if it were really careless. But it casually dismisses the powerful history of America acting as a force for good. But it would have never occurred to most people not to be proud of America. It would never have crossed the minds of a lot of Americans to offer a communist guerilla leader as a heroic icon. This suggests a mentality that America suffers from a deep moral cancer; and that, at minimum, such will be the mentality of the people who surround President Obama.

America has flaws, to be sure. But we are also greater than our flaws. All of the good that America has done in recent history cannot be casually dismissed because we currently have a President who made a colossal geopolitical mistake with respect to Iraq, and was then too arrogant to admit it. It even ignores the fact that, belatedly perhaps, we are doing what is in our power to make things right there despite our refusal to admit that we erred. It seems incongruous with the Obama message that we should transcend the problems of the past. Dwelling on our past misdeeds and iconizing some of our most loathsome enemies will not move the nation towards a brighter tomorrow.

1 comment:

zzi said...

History Lesson
Joint Resolution (H.J.Res. 114)
October 11, 2002
YEAs 77 | NAYs 23