Thursday, June 04, 2015

Obama, Progressives, Shame, and American Exceptionalism

Ashley Kelleher at work in the U.S. city with highest poverty rate: Reading PA.
“Even as progressives claim to speak for ‘the people,’ the increasingly manifest reality is that their power flows from the death star in Washington.”

--Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

From George Orwell’s 1984, we learned that:  

“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”

In our last post, we showed progressives adding: 

“Defeat is victory.”

And today, from the Washington “death star,” progressives seek to foist upon us a new 1984-style quotation: 

“Shame is patriotism.”

This new quote is distilled from Greg Jaffe of the progressive Washington Post’s article entitled, “Obama’s new patriotism: How Obama has used his presidency to redefine ‘American exceptionalism.’” Conservatives are associated with the old patriotism that exalted the American experience, a patriotism that reacted with hostility to Barack Obama’s saying in 2009, "I believe in American Exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

To Jaffe, current Republican criticism reflects:
Obama’s effort in the seventh year of his presidency to articulate a new and radical form of American exceptionalism. While American exceptionalism in recent decades has centered around the exercise of American power and influence in the world, Obama’s conception is more inwardly focused. It’s a patriotism that embraces the darker moments in American history and celebrates the ability of the unsung and the outsiders to challenge the country’s elite and force change. [emphasis added]
Jaffe says Obama has evolved from the person who in 2009 downplayed American exceptionalism as no different than Greek exceptionalism:
Five years later, and a little grayer, Obama [in 2014] summed up his feelings on the subject differently. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” he told graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.
Yes, but Obama’s is a progressive exceptionalism that “embraces the darker moments in American history.”

Check out the three drop quotes in Jaffe’s article. The quotes lead us down a path from traditional American exceptionalism to Obama’s “radical” version. The quotes are from the 2014 General Social Survey, done by the University of Chicago in cooperation with the Washington Post:

  • 84% of people agree with the statement “I would rather be a citizen of America than of any other country in the world.”  
Comment: OK, so now we are all “exceptionalists.”

  • 70% of U.S. adults agree “the world would be a better place if Americans acknowledged America’s shortcomings”  
Comment: Some will see “acknowledging shortcomings” as an important step in redefining downward America’s place in the world. Others say, “Well yes, we aren’t perfect.”

  • 64% of U.S. adults agree “there are some things about America today that make me feel ashamed”  
Comment: Of course, the meaning of “ashamed” varies from person to person. The poll shows Republicans are more “ashamed” than Democrats today, and were 20% less “ashamed” in 2004, when Bush was president.

In his article, Jaffe quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter, ex-Obama administration State Department official, who provides background “color” to Obama’s redefinition of exceptionalism:
When American history is told by the winners, by white [males] who were in charge, it looks one way. When American history is told by people who are every bit as patriotic, but who saw a different side, of course it is going to change.
Jaffe writes that in his Selma, Alabama speech on March 7, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the historic “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights, Obama laid out his new, progressive version of American exceptionalism. Obama said,
What could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people — the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course? That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing.
Nice about the “plain and humble” heroes. But Obama also likes trotting out his “straw men,” so at Selma the president also pointed to those who would “define some of us as more American than others,” who “pine for the past,” “fear the future,” and see America as “some fragile thing.”

Evidently, Obama thinks his Selma speech might be a Gettysburg-like historical masterpiece, because the White House gave Jaffe special access to the drafts and discussions that went into preparing Selma’s redefinition of exceptionalism. In the process, Jaffe discovered Obama’s “straw men” alive in an early draft, where the president wrote:
Those who only understand exceptionalism as preserving the past; who deny our faults or inequality; who say love it or leave it; those are the people who are afraid. Those are the people who think America is some fragile thing.
These “straw men” are what conservatives have come to expect from our “one America: red, white, and blue” president. And in the president’s early draft language, there is an unmistakable echo of the much earlier Obama who when confronted with a different group of “plain and humble people,” also well-separated from the corridors of wealth and power, treated them with more disdain than the praise he heaped on Selma’s civil rights heroes.

Recall that on April 6, 2008, Obama told us:
You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Well, now the jobs have been gone for seven years more. But we shan't worry for their fate, especially if “shame is patriotism.”

No comments: