Barack Obama yesterday kicked off a week of patriotic speeches. It’s
much more than the normal politician’s July 4 oration - it’s Obama’s
answer to a crucial test.
After all, millions of Americans have seen the tapes of the Rev.
Jeremiah Wright - Obama’s longtime pastor - damning America, painting
our nation as the world’s villain. So voters have a right to wonder how
pro-American Obama really is.
A question on such an existential level is unusual in politics - but so is Rev. Wright.
Obama’s first “patriotism” speech yesterday struck just the right
notes in articulating his love of America. If he keeps it up, it will
go far toward easing voters’ concerns.
The candidate included the usual anti-war rhetoric and noted our
failings (”ongoing racial strife,” “perversions of our political
system,” “the wrenching poverty of the Mississippi Delta”) - but also
paid due homage to the nation that is giving him the opportunity to
become its leader.
More, he let us know he understands that America is the leading
force for good in the world - referring to his “gut instinct that so
many of us have, that America is the greatest country on Earth.”
He praised “the joys of American life and culture - its vitality,
its variety, its freedom” and noted that they had “always outweighed
its imperfections.” He said that what “makes America great has never
been its perfection, but the belief that it can be made better.”
The president is the high priest of our secular religion. From that
pulpit, Ronald Reagan affirmed his belief that God placed us as a
unique nation between two oceans to offer a beacon of liberty and hope
to the world. Abraham Lincoln called the United States the “last best
hope of Earth.”
Does Obama embrace this secular faith ardently enough to be its priest? The question lingered after Wright’s expostulations.
Obama made it worse by dealing defensively with patriotism -
attacking those who questioned his and wondering aloud if wearing a
flag in his lapel was a form of pandering. These musings left us in
doubt that he really disagrees with Wright, and really embraces the
idea that America is exceptional.
But his “patriotism offensive” shows that he’s learning how to assuage those fears.
Coming out of the primaries, Obama had separate female and male
problems. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on guns likely solves his
woman problem - worries about preserving Roe v. Wade should now bring
female voters flocking back.
But Hillary Clinton’s male voters will be a harder sell. In the
extreme, their worries about Obama’s patriotism even leave some fearing
that he could be a sleeper agent sent to the US to destabilize our
system. He needs to soothe them at a very fundamental level.
If he keeps striking the same notes as yesterday, Obama can do that.
He’ll still face attacks on his plans to raise taxes to intolerable
heights or to wreck our health-care system by covering 15 million
illegal immigrants - but that’s normal politics.
At least we’ll know that the next president of the United States, should it be Barack Obama, actually likes us.