Yesterday's Heroes and Today's Commander-in-Chief
James Donovan's recent book, Blood of Heroes (New York, 2012), is an extraordinarily moving account of the men who died at the Alamo in 1836. Donovan's book records the determination of those who joined Col. William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie to defend their way of life, even in the face of almost certain death. Their dedication set the stage for Texas independence and for its later admission to the United States. One can only marvel at the devotion to the idea of liberty shared by this ragged band of brothers.
One is also struck by the contrast with the less than heroic political leaders on today's national stage. In the weeks before the final assault on the Alamo by Santa Anna's forces, Col. Travis issued a number of appeals for assistance. Several relief parties were eventually organized, but they came too late to save the Alamo defenders, all of whom died when the Mexican army overran the fort on March 6, 1836. In each of these appeals, Travis made clear his determination to remain at his post until the bitter end. He understood that his forces were all that stood between Santa Anna and the Anglo settlements to the east, and that if his small contingent did not halt or at least delay the Mexican advance, those poorly defended settlements would face rape, pillage, and murder. As he stated in one appeal after another, Travis was determined to defend his people, with absolutely no regard for his own self-interest.
Barack Obama is no Col. Travis, as is obvious from his willingness to pander to every special interest that controls votes, including those interests, such as illegal aliens, that are injurious to the United States.
Unlike Travis, who faced an enemy more than 100 times the strength of his forces and made a conscious decision to sacrifice all in defense of his people, our current president is not even willing to enforce the existing law on illegal immigration or to demonstrate leadership on deficit reduction, energy independence, and a host of other issues. He sits in his comfortable quarters in the White House -- when not vacationing in Hawaii or playing golf -- and there he plots a re-election campaign that divides Americans, setting one group against another.
When news of the Alamo massacre reached the Anglo settlements to the east and the broader audience of American citizens who supported Texas independence, the cry "Remember the Alamo" went up almost immediately. That cry united the hastily formed regiments under Sam Houston that soon defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto and achieved independence. It also inspired thousands of Americans to immigrate or send aid to the newly independent nation. In other words, it united all who supported Texas independence, inspiring them to make sacrifices of their own on behalf of liberty.
Nothing like that can be said about the re-election campaign of our current president. He has cynically played the race card at every opportunity -- from ill-advisedly jumping into the Trayvon Martin case to filing lawsuits that attempt to block voter ID laws in Indiana, Texas, Florida, and South Carolina -- all in an effort to arouse his base of minority supporters. He has quite publicly announced his refusal to enforce the law of the United States with regard to deportation of illegal aliens, again with the cynical calculation that this defiance will gain him votes. He has attacked affluent Americans -- the 10% who pay 70% of all taxes -- for purportedly not paying "their fair share." (How much is their fair share -- everything they earn over $200,000?)
In an effort to further divide the country, Obama has even attacked Mitt Romney for not releasing more than two years of tax returns, when the president himself has consistently refused to release his college records, including a copy of his senior thesis or of the seminar paper that he may have submitted in place of a thesis. (The question of whether he submitted a thesis at all, which was customary, and whether he graduated with honors -- apparently he did not -- might be clarified with the release of his college records.) Those documents would be far more revealing, I suspect, than anything on Romney's tax returns. They would probably show that Obama was a mediocre student and, more to the point, that he has always been an anti-American Marxist, one who chose to study with critics of American power like Edward Said. It seems that Obama was determined from the start to divide the American people in order to gain power for himself.
That is about as far from Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and the other approximately 200 defenders of the Alamo as one can get. They stepped across the line that Travis drew in the dirt with his sword, knowing that doing so meant almost certain death. As for our current leader, he is showing himself to be a base politician who will do anything and say anything to get re-elected, even if it means tearing the country apart.
The sacrifice of the Alamo defenders inspired the nation and led eventually to the integration of Texas and the entire southwest into the United States. It was an act of heroism that is still revered today. Nothing that Obama has done will be remembered as anything but partisan and selfish. When he is voted out of office in November, as we hope, he will be remembered only for his political ruthlessness and utter disregard for the well-being of the nation.
Unlike the Alamo defenders, whose selfless conduct still inspires awe, Obama will be remembered as a small-time community organizer from Chicago who made his way by employing every mean device of political division and deception. That is not heroism. It is cynicism and self-regard of a kind that is almost unprecedented in American politics.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).