Obama's Rebirth as an American Exceptionalist
It's a given among conservatives that President Obama doesn't have a lot of admiration for the Founding Fathers, and only believes in American exceptionalism, as he said at the 2009 NATO summit, as much as "Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." In other words, not at all.
It's time to reassess this notion. Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy recently wrote in Time: "It isn't that [Obama]'s not enough of an American exceptionalist; it's that he's too much of one." Kennedy is a radical leftist obsessed with racism, but on this point he might be right, although for the wrong reasons.
It sounds preposterous, but bear with me through some armchair psychoanalysis. Before Obama was elected, he was an anti-American radical, in a choom gang, hanging out with the Marxist professors and the structural feminists, with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.
In 2008, Michelle Obama said she was proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. Much was made of the admission that she didn't love America before this moment, but the statement also reveals an evolution, shared, I'm sure, by Michelle's husband: America is exceptional because it elected Barack Obama.
In 2009, when Obama spoke about Greek exceptionalism, he was newly elected and unsure if racist America was going to reject him.
Things have changed in 2013. Obama sees his first term as wildly successful, marked by the passage of Obamacare and a massive expansion of government, reaffirmed by his re-election.You can see it in his combative dismissal of the opposition, his arrogant refusal to compromise. He imagines he will go down in history as our greatest president, bar none.
Obama has always had enormous vanity. The quality is not uncommon among presidents, but Obama pushes the envelope. When asked to give funeral eulogies, he talks about himself. As many have remarked, he's an egomaniac, with diagnosable narcissism. The events of the last four years have done nothing to diminish the messiah complex.
Consider this passage from his second Inaugural address:
America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands... My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together.
By "together," Obama means "through government action." In addition, Obama often pretends he's speaking for the collective, as in "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." The device is more of a majestic plural, like Queen Victoria's royal we. Like Louis XIV ("L'etat, c'estmoi"), Obama asserts that he is the embodiment of government, of the country. He is America. (A definition of narcissism: "self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects.")
The above quote therefore might be more accurate if revised:
America's possibilities are limitless, for I possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands... My fellow Americans, I am made for this moment, and I will seize it -- so long as my federal government seizes it.
Returning to Randall Kennedy: "Obama's sensibility is anything but countercultural... He constantly posits that the U.S. is singularly virtuous, singularly destined to accomplish great things."
Kennedy is correct! For Kennedy, praising America is highly offensive, but Obama doesn't say these things because of what Kennedy calls "patriotism that revels in national idolatry." Rather, Obama loves himself. His American exceptionalism is a form of self-idolatry.
But is Obama really not countercultural?
He's certainly a leftist, but if you read The Nation and people like Randall Kennedy, you'll find a lot of discontent with Obama's Presidency. The counterculture would never talk about America's limitless possibilities; they praise Europe's quality of life and Cuba's medical system. Today's left is trapped in a destructive hatred for America's past, which they extrapolate into America's present and future, despite the evidence of enormous and continual progress.
Obama's second Inaugural speech in contrast was filled with references to the Founding Fathers and optimistic predictions of American greatness. Early on he even uses the word "exceptional":
What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident...[etc.]
He almost seems to be responding to Randall Kennedy's comment that Obama "is still routinely charged with not being fully American and not embracing the idea of American exceptionalism."
It's easy to dismiss Obama's speech as hypocrisy, or Alinskiite dissimulation. Obama is certainly gifted in obscuring his intentions, but often he tells us exactly what he's planning. We just don't listen.
I believe that Obama is sincere in the narrative of American history he lays out in his Inaugural speech. The nation, he tells us, began with an admirable promise, but America was flawed and remained flawed because of slavery and racism. We preached that all men were created equal, but all men still are not equal. Like most liberals, he confuses equality of opportunity and equality of result. The promise of the Declaration and the Constitution therefore remained unfulfilled. Until now.
Obama repeatedly lays out the contrast between a flawed American past and an exceptional American future:
It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. [...]
That is our generation's task -- to make these words, these rights, these values -- of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- real for every American. [...]
That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Obama's belief in paternalistic big government, multiculturalism and emphasis on "collective action" is the opposite of the "creed our fathers once declared," but this matters little to Living Constitutionalists. In fact, Obama at least pretends to respect the Constitution more than most on the left, like the Georgetown law professor who argued that "If we are to take back our own country, we have to start making decisions for ourselves, and stop deferring to an ancient and outdated document."
In sum, Obama has little love for America as it was founded, but he foresees an exceptional American future -- brought to you by Barack Obama. It's more than a politician's natural desire to leave a positive legacy. Obama wants to lead America to greatness that will personify his own historic greatness. Unfortunately, his vision of greatness looks more like failure to Americans who revere the Constitution.
Yes, Obama is too much of an exceptionalist.