August 7, 2008
Obama's Abstract PatriotismBy Larrey Anderson
When Barack Obama gave a speech on patriotism, he equated patriotism with the abstract concepts of "sacrifice" and "service to a larger cause." Senator Obama does not understand what patriotism is -- or how it works.
A couple of political flubs forced Obama into his patriotic speech mode. It started last fall with the flag pin flap. Obama sometimes did -- and more often did not -- wear an American flag pin. Obama explained his refusal to wear the lapel pin thus:
This initial explanation created a lot more questions than answers. Patriotism seems to be either reduced to support for certain pieces of legislation or it disappears into the mysterious (yet known to Obama) human heart. This ambiguous rationalization, for rather obvious reasons, did not fly.
A few weeks later, Obama was, literally, caught on film with his hands down. A widely circulated video showed Obama not placing his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.
Obama responded to a question about the National Anthem incident in a town hall meeting last November with this vague reply:
Apparently, Obama pledges allegiance with his hand over his heart; but it's hands down for the National Anthem. Whatever.
My concern is not what is in Obama's heart, or where he puts his hands, my concern is with his definition of patriotism. After being exposed for these two political faux pas, Obama seemed to sound more and more like a red, white, and blue patriot. His June 30 speech was intended to set the foundation for the new patriotic and pro-American Obama. Except it didn't.
Obama's hurt feelings (that his patriotism had been unfairly challenged) are evident in the speech:
Obama, in his inimitable style, gives a long and rambling speech, filled with patriotic buzzwords. He promises, early in the speech that "we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit." He does not keep the promise. Obama never defines patriotism -- but he leaves us enough clues to be able to catch his meaning.[ii]
That word "obligation" is the first hint Obama gives of what he understands as patriotism. "Sacrifice to a larger cause" becomes the theme:
This sentence should set off an alarm in the mind of every rational person. Patriotism, according to Obama, does not mean to defend something, patriotism means to lose something.
Obama applies this logic to the military and the speech becomes almost sinister:
A sacrifice made by a soldier is not an imperative of duty; it is, sometimes, a corollary of duty. A soldier's duty is to protect the country and to defend the Constitution. Sacrifice may be a consequence of military service but it can never be an imperative.[iii] It is not a soldier's obligation to be killed or wounded for his country. A soldier's obligation is to protect his country and to try and stay alive while doing it. Obama's notion of "a call to sacrifice for the country's greater good" is not patriotic -- it is Orwellian.
Sacrifice is an imperative of citizenship? Think about that for a second. This is a terrifying statement coming from someone who would be commander-in-chief. Obama's amoral, and totalitarian, logic should make a rational person's skin crawl.
In the only concrete proposal Obama makes in the speech, he makes it clear that the "greater cause" he is discussing is sacrifice in the form of service for the government:
Obama continues in his quasi-messianic mode:
The "sacrifice to a greater cause," that Obama calls "patriotism," apparently travels with us to the next life.
Patriotism may sometimes involve sacrifice but not to some ill-defined "greater cause." Patriotism, at least according to the Founding Fathers, is the process of defending, both intellectually and by physical force when necessary, our federal republic and the Constitution. Patriotism is not an "imperative of citizenship" -- it is a conscious choice. [iv]
In spite of what Obama would have you believe, you can be an American and not be patriotic. That is part of the beautiful paradox of freedom that is America. Anyone who tells you that patriotism is an "imperative of citizenship" is not a patriot -- but a peddler of socialism.
Barack Obama is an American original. He has charmed the nation, and the world, with the most obscure and intellectually dishonest political speeches in American history. He destroyed the mighty Clinton political machine using nothing but a single cliché: "Change We Can Believe In."
Here is the first banner one sees at the official Obama campaign website:
Think about that tag line. Obama is asking me to believe that I believe in Obama's ability to change Washington because I believe in my ability to change Washington. If that is what his tag line means, then I am not a believer.
I believe his "change we can believe in" rhetoric is nothing but a clever political slogan. My further belief is that it has been effectively delivered.
But Obama has also asked us to believe that our sacrifice for his vision of the greater good is the definition of patriotism. That is not believable. That is just plain scary.
Larrey Anderson is a philosopher and writer living in Idaho. He can be reached at ldandersonbooks.com
[i] Delivered June 30, 2008 in Independence, Missouri. The speech is one of the highlights on Obama's campaign website. As of this writing, it appears three slots below Michelle Obama's address to the DNC Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council.
[ii] He does quote Mark Twain's one-line definition. "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."
[iii] The noun "imperative" means an order, instruction, or command. A moral imperative may be ignored. A legal imperative is enforced through coercion. As we will see, Obama is speaking here of a legal imperative.
[iv] I recently presented a brief description of the Founding Father's definition of patriotism in American Thinker. Sacrifice, in a particular instance, might be a requisite for a patriotic act. (In philosophical terms, sacrifice for patriotism is contingent, not necessary.) But amorphous "sacrifice" to a nebulous "greater cause" is not patriotism -- it is the first step to despotism.