Hot on the heels of the Ethics Alarms Presidents Day celebration of the men who have held the office, which began with the premise that every one of them made a patriotic decision to attempt such a daunting job and deserves our respect and gratitude, comes Rudy Giuliani to accuse the current occupant of the office of not loving the United States of America. His accusation came not in a national address or an interview with CNN, mind you, but at a small, private dinner for nascent GOP Presidential hopeful Scott Walker. This sparked an over-the-top freakout by the mainstream media, which did everything from questioning Giuliani’s patriotism and sanity to accusing him of racism (but of course).
Then, because we all know Giuliani, who is neither a leader of the Republican Party nor currently an elected official, speaks for all Republicans, every Presidential contender had to answer the “when did you stop beating your wife” question of whether they also believed that the President didn’t “love” the U.S. Rudy was interviewed and re-interviewed to clarify his remarks, leading him to “explain” that he wasn’t impugning Obama’s patriotism, but would not apologize, and to speculate that Obama’s upbringing and past associations had produced a socialist/communist sensibility. Rudy also said that the President had rejected American “exceptionalism,” and that this was ominous.
Finally, in what was a foolish, unnecessary—but sadly typical for this President—“I am not a crook” moment, Obama felt it was necessary to rebut the former New York Mayor by declaring in a speech that he did love America.
Ick, yuck, uck, petooie, bleh, gag, yechhh.
What an ugly and destructive controversy.
Observations from the ethics perch:
1. Giuliani chose his words badly, and when you intentionally stroll into a metaphorical minefield, incompetent phrasing is irresponsible. Not loving certainly implies a patriotism deficit, as well as the opposite of love, which is hate. What I discern that he was trying to say was that Obama doesn’t much like the culture of the United States as he found it, and as it remains, more or less, despite his stuttering efforts.
2. That doesn’t mean Obama doesn’t love his country and care about it: no man who sets out on a career of public service and then subjects himself to the burdens of the Presidency could hate the country he leads, just as a parent doesn’t hate, but indeed loves, his most disappointing and troublesome child. It is hard to maintain that this isn’t Obama’s true attitude toward the United States. The woman he married has said twice that she was never proud of her country until it elected her husband. He sat for years and listened to his mentor and spiritual leader, Rev. Wright, damn the nation from his pulpit without protesting. He has expressed pointed criticism of the nation’s activities abroad throughout its history, and apologized for them on foreign soil. He doesn’t care for the way the dominant economic system and the one most consistent with the Founders’ ideals distributes wealth, income and power. He does not embrace traditional American ideals of personal accountability and responsibility.
3. Obama’s supporters and followers, many of them, are imbued with the Howard Zinn-Noam Chomsky interpretation of the U.S. as a ruthless, amoral, racist, violent nation that took North America from Native Americans through genocide, and Mexico through immoral warfare, made itself rich by enslaving Africans and has not been a force for good in the world but a force for chaos and subjugation, motivated by self-interest and greed by elite, manipulating hypocrites. Does Obama feel this way too? I wouldn’t bet against it.
4. These beliefs, however, have been gradually mainstreamed by the leftist majority in academia and scholarship for a half a century now. It is both unfair and unrealistic to characterize them as “un-American.” That’s progressivism as it has evolved from Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, FDR. and others, like Zinn and Chomsky, as well as more amiable critics like Robert Reich. Franklin Roosevelt’s Manhattan Club speech that I quoted at length in the recent discussion of Roosevelt’s legacy is more radical than anything Obama has dared to propose. Roosevelt loved America but believed that it was in its best interests and those of its citizens for the nation to undergo an ideological overhaul. For better or worse, the ideas Obama loves are part of his country’s political culture. The fact that Giuliani and Republicans find them repulsive doesn’t make Obama an America-hater. Like FDR 80 years ago, however, he doesn’t like the United States’ predominant culture very much. Anyone who denies that isn’t being honest or is in denial.
5. Returning to the conclusions of my Presidential overview, Giuliani’s follow-up statement that Obama wasn’t raised “like the rest of us” is idiotic and ignorant. Yes, and so what? Very few of the Presidents were raised like typical Americans. These men were all weird…well, maybe not Truman and Ford. Being weird is what made them leaders: their names weren’t pulled out of a hat. Nor were all of them raised to “love America.” To state what should be obvious, it wasn’t until President #8 that we had a President who was even born in the United States. Chester Arthur was born in Canada, and snuck past the Constitutional prohibition of foreign-born Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A large number of them were raised to believe that blacks and women…and Jews…were inherently inferior. A remarkable number of them were raised to believe that they were destined to change the country and the world. Yes, Obama probably feels like a man apart from his fellow citizens because of his mixed culture upbringing, and in that feeling of singularity, he’s a typical, not a-typical, Presidential type.
6. Not believing in American exceptionalism is an elitist, intellectual, politically correct view, not an anti-American one. A strong argument can be made that the United States is “the greatest country on Earth” on its merits, but love of country is based on emotion, not score-keeping.
7. If Giuliani chose his words carefully, then this is mighty close to the Big Lie tactic, in that it challenges its target to discuss an idea that becomes more plausible the more it is treated as worthy of discussion.
8. In that regard, Obama took the bait. The phrase “Me thinks he doth protest too much” will come to many minds. This is another example of how Obama’s narcissism and thin skin makes him appear defensive and weak. Why should a smear uttered by a Republican political consultant warrant a Presidential response? Obama loves America, but he still doesn’t have a clue about how to be President.
9. The liberal-biased news media’s rush to defend the President once again gives us smoking gun evidence of the double standard employed by it. Did journalists rush to President Bush’s side when Al Gore thundered that he “betrayed” America? Did journalists take Kanye West to task for seizing a national TV spotlight to accuse Bush of intentionally allowing African Americans in New Orleans to suffer? (Kanye West, I would say, had and has more societal influence at this point than Rudy Giuliani.) Then there’s a junior Senator from Illinois, who was largely unscathed by the media after he said President Bush was “unpatriotic” because he (don’t laugh now!) allowed the national debt to increase so much. If Giuliani’s statement is a week-long story, then these statements should have been. If his accusation is unconscionably disrespectful of “the office,” then so were they.
10. This was not the stupidest or most offensive thing Republicans have said lately, but boy, they have sure been saying a lot of gratuitously stupid things—statements that viscerally involve cognitive dissonance and alienate potential supporters. It may well be that the party has a critical mass of such kamikazes who will once again keep the GOP from inflicting a defeat on the feckless, cynical, Orwellian Democrats that that party richly deserves.
11. Predictably, since this has been the pattern and the strategy of the past six years, many of Obama’s furious supporters in the media and the party are calling Giuliani’s words “racist.” According to the draft Ethics Alarms Race-Baiting Scale, this is a clear #10., Manufactured Outrage: Accusations of racism based on criticism of a black public figure for conduct that a white public figure would be and has been criticized for in exactly the same manner.