23 February 2015
Love (of country) means never saying you're sorry
Rudy Giuliani has as much right to say that President Obama doesn't love his country as Kanye West did to say that President Bush didn't care for black people. Some people are acting like Giuliani committed some form of treason, or else proved himself an untouchable bigot, for questioning Obama's patriotism last week, but so long as we can freely accuse Republicans of hating whole segments of the American population Giuliani is equally within his prerogatives as an American. Of course, everyone else remains within his or her prerogative to judge Giuliani, but the implication that he has, or should have, no right to say what he did goes too far. What's supremely asinine about Giuliani's remarks, and his efforts to clarify them afterward, is the former mayor's own apparent lack of confidence in his country's objective moral standing. His complaint, as he has elaborated, is that Obama is too often critical of the country's past and insufficiently affirmative of its historic virtue. For Giuliani, as for other overly aggressive advocates of American exceptionalism, the rating game of nations is played by zero-sum rules. To bring up the nation's crimes, or even its mere shortcomings, in this view, is to disqualify the U.S. from its rightful role as Leader of the Free World. Giuliani would seem to think that people who learn of the bad things done by the U.S. will conclude that the U.S. is a bad country, and he blames such a conclusion on Obama's failure to affirm often enough all the good things about America. As many critics have noted, Obama has affirmed those good things quite often, but either still not often enough for Giuliani or, more likely, not at the right times. What Giuliani would like, I suspect -- if he wouldn't actually prefer that Obama not criticize our past at all -- is that every presidential talk on history have a "despite that" moment. Despite all that, Obama should say after every recitation of American failings, the U.S. for however so many reasons remains the Greatest Country in the World. If Obama doesn't correct the balance in every single speech, Giuliani worries, people can't be trusted not to conclude that the U.S. has been a historic experiment in wickedness, and Obama can't be trusted not to believe that himself. Why else would the former mayor think that Obama has demoralized the nation? Either he assumes that Americans are so stupid that they're incapable of balancing the bad and the good in their own heads, or else Giuliani himself must worry that the U.S. will be found wanting in the scales of history. If he didn't believe himself that slavery, conquest, generations of bigoted injustice, etc. may damage the nation's standing beyond repair, he wouldn't get so worked up over Obama's attempted history lessons. Obama himself presumably draws different conclusions. While he may be more circumspect than past Presidents about the U.S. unilaterally dominating the world, he has never appeared to doubt a special American entitlement to throw our weight across the globe. Moreover, those inclined to see Obama as an egoist or narcissist ought to suspect that the President sees his own election and reelection as redeeming the nation's past sins if not sufficiently proving its exceptional greatness themselves. In short, why wouldn't Obama love a country that made him President? Only a truly paranoid mindset of the sort that still imagines an international communist conspiracy would dare answer...and that's why you let people like Giuliani, who might yet aspire to political power, speak their minds without inhibition. Only then do you know how their minds really work. For that reason, Rudy should be thanked for doing us all a public service.