Obama's Abstract Patriotism

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:

"After a while, you start noticing people wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. Not voting to make sure that disability payments were coming out on time. My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart."

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:

"Anytime that you pledge allegiance you put your hand over your heart and I always have and I always will. It's simply not true."

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:

"And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged -- at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for."

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]

"I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief ... that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs."

That word "obligation" is the first hint Obama gives of what he understands as patriotism. "Sacrifice to a larger cause" becomes the theme:

"I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice - to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause."

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:

"We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform ... the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor ... [even for those not in the military] the call to sacrifice for the country's greater good remains an imperative of citizenship."

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:

"I believe one of the tasks of the next Administration is to ensure that this movement towards service grows and sustains itself in the years to come. We should expand AmeriCorps and grow the Peace Corps. We should encourage national service by making it part of the requirement for a new college assistance program...." [My emphasis.]

Obama continues in his quasi-messianic mode:

"Just as patriotism involves each of us making a commitment to this nation that extends beyond our own immediate self-interest, so must that commitment extends beyond our own time here on earth." [sic]

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:

Obama banner

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. 
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