Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Obama's Idea of American Unity and the Bin Laden Mission Analogy

Some conservatives are critical of Obama's analogizing the Bin Laden raid and military cohesiveness and unity in the execution of it as almost approaching a dangerous "fascist" or "technocratic statist" idea of America. (See Conor Friedersdorf, Prof. Mondo, and even my esteemed Andrew Sullivan [see Sullivan's 10:17 pm comment]).

First off, I find this richly ironic as conservatives are the first to criticize President Obama for being anti-everything patriotic in the military, a "divider" and not a uniter. They are also the first to complain bitterly about those of us who disagree with them as not part of "real" America. Yeah, yeah ... try to wish this away, but the fact is that America's ideological division and messiness is never celebrated by conservatives as a fundamental part of who we are, but is rather alien and foreign to America -- it is the other "faux" America and is not really who or what we are. And any claims to a feeling of an American-ness that we share in opposition to forces arrayed against the project that is America, in all of its messiness and division, are always questionable when a liberal Democrat makes such claims.

I wrote the following in a comment at Prof. Mondo's blog that captures my problem with this line of critiquing this part of Obama's speech:

I think Obama understands America and Americans pretty darn well if you want to refer to the average person. You (and Friedersdorf) can read a (nearly) fascist meaning into what Obama was saying, but I think folks who don’t hold Ph.D.s or who haven’t studied closely the fine variations of governing ideologies such as totalitarianism, fascism, democracy, republicanism, corporatism, etc., will know exactly what Obama meant. He was saying (as he hinted at when he directly prefaced this part of his SOTU address when he noted that the soldiers on the Osama bin Laden mission were probably both Democrats and Republicans) that in spite of our differences, we all share what it means to be an American and that this matters (or should matter) when push comes to shove and the very idea of America is in question. In fact, I’ve even heard some conservatives make the point that when a foreigner seeks to demean our country’s President it doesn’t matter that we do it ourselves. We get to do it because we’re Americans, and it’s our birthright; but if some foreigner wants to do it, well then we’re going to stand with our President and defend what he represents as an American because it’s also a slight on us if we don’t. For instance, I may not have liked George Bush, and I may rail on him all the time, but I’ll be damned if I won’t come to Bush’s defense as an American when some foreign yahoo tries to belittle and demean him. That’s what Obama was conveying, and I think most Americans knew exactly that and agree with it. It has to do not with the messiness of difference, but with the commonality of our American identity.

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