“I know this is a horrible thing to say,” Rudy Giuliani reportedly told a group of conservative moneymen in New York this week, “but I do not believe that the president loves America.” This is, evidentially, the most disturbing example of othering the media has ever encountered.
The perception that Obama dislikes America is nothing new in conservative circles. Radio talk hosts have asked me numerous times – often, in creative ways – if I agree that the president “hates” America. Since none of us has the ability to bore into the souls of fellow humans and unlock all their hidden motivations, the question is distracting and irrelevant. And as political rhetoric goes it’s needlessly hyperbolic.
But really, is it that outrageous or surprising that so many Americans doubt whether the president “loves” the traditional role the United States has played on the world stage, or whether he “loves” the capitalism that’s defined us for the past 50 or 60 years, or whether he “loves” the Constitutional protections we have for religious freedoms, guns, or free speech?
Now, I’m sure Obama loves America. Mostly, though, he seems to love the America he wishes existed rather than the one that does. There’s a lot of populist filler in his patriotism, but in the end it’s always the same: American excellence means a government that acts as the citizenry’s moral center, the engine of its prosperity, and the arbiter of all fairness. This is the president that gives Fourth of July speeches focusing on “economic patriotism” – a progressive concoction that isn’t distinctly American in any context. In fact, the statist philosophy behind that bogus appeal is by definition pretty “un-American.”
The century is young, though, and Obama ran to “fundamentally transform” the country. And even if we chalk up that dramatic statement to the enthusiasm of an election season, what are we to make of the incessant need to denigrate the economic system that made the entire deal possible? Serious thinkers on the Left will constantly tell us that the president is simply a pragmatist. What radical things has the president done, after all? Rarely do they mention that most of Obama’s supposed moderation is a consequence of the checks and balances our system of lawmaking provides: a system Obama has constantly attempted to circumvent, delegitimize, and deride when he fails to get his way. Obama loves his ideological ideals a lot more than the ideals of American governance.
But the most irritating part of all the pearl-clutching about Giuliani’s remark, though, is the hypocrisy. Just today in Time we read: “Obama Claims GOP Rhetoric Could Help ISIS.” The president now argues that those who fail to follow his bizarre aversion to dealing with the reality of Islamic terrorism are aiding and legitimatizing enemies who burn innocent people alive. If that’s not questioning our patriotism (and morality), I’m not sure what is. And it’s not new. Democrats have made a nasty habit of framing all political opposition to progressive ideas as unpatriotic assaults on the aspirations of average Americans. For Democrats, patriotism means paying lots of taxes. One liberal after the next stood up at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and accused Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan of betting against America simply because they engaged in business abroad or made too much money or had different ideas about the welfare state.
To be fair, the DNC’s rhetoric is mild compared to Al Gore’s claim that George W. Bush betrayed his country, or Obama’s claim that Bush’s debt-spending was unpatriotic. (Obama’s debt is, no doubt, a moral imperative.) No, no one is innocent. And Giuliani’s comments are aimed at Obama’s foreign policy. Obviously, you can’t measure patriotism by how many bombs a president drops. But on top of his attempts to redefine patriotism, Obama’s insatiable need to apologize for our alleged wrongdoings (and to create ridiculous moral equivalencies between cultures that struggle with violence and authoritarianism and our own) is also disconcerting. For many Americans, it’s also suspicious.