Picking up on Peter Schramm's post below, it seems to me that Peggy Noonan
's instincts as a Presidential speechwriter always have some merit. In fairness to Obama, however, the speech he delivered on Friday
seemed to be coming from someplace close to the vicinity Noonan recommended. Though I do not, of course, heartily endorse every line of Obama's speech (nor do I applaud the general policy direction in which the movement of the thing would have us go), there is something noble and right thinking about the way he deflected attention to himself and instead suggested that attention is (and always was) due to America. If he understood the award, as he certainly should have understood it, as a kind of play by European elites to pat him on the back for being "their kind of American" (i.e., not like George W. Bush) Obama also took the opportunity to remind them that for all that, "don't make the mistake of forgetting that I'm still an American
That is to say, he affirmed America's role as a beacon and an example to the world. In terms different from those I would use but, nevertheless, still certain of our place in the world he made it clear that America will not--even as it moves closer to a form of democracy and a series of policy proposals that a European socialist might find palatable--readily relinquish the role as leader of the free world. We are not a nation to be trifled with by those who think we have already seen our best days. Obama does not appear to believe that America is, or that it ought to be (in some sort of cosmic "fairness" to the rest of the world), entering upon its twilight.
This is good for America on the international scene. It is a kind of stepping up to the plate with an "I dare you," look on our face. For as long as we seem to be backing up the look with an effective swing, they will not dare.
But Obama's speech was also useful as a kind of clarifying moment for our present partisan struggles. Americans ought to remind themselves that when it comes to the question of America's greatness, the best of liberals
and the best of conservative
s really do not and really have not disagreed. As I said in a previous post
. . . nevermind the idiots (whether conservative or liberal). In the last century, we fought side by side in two major world conflicts. Together (though not always in harmony) we defeated an evil empire and we ended a long cold war that threatened to eclipse us. Together, we built a nation that was capable of all of these achievements and, as Noonan pointed out in her article, a country that has blessed the world with its innovation and freedom-loving spirit. We all ought to believe that America is great. We all ought to believe that it should continue to be great. And we should praise our political adversaries and trust in their good faith when they show themselves to be open to at least that much of the argument.
And yet, we cannot and we should not lull ourselves into believing that a broad and basic agreement on ends represents anything other than what it is--it is a starting point for conversation not its conclusion. All Americans, not just those who take an oath to the Constitution, have a duty to see that its principles and its purposes are upheld in public life. If we all want America to be great this, of course, is something to be lauded. But how best to accomplish this greatness will ever be a matter of vigorous dispute. Disagreements about the efficacy of particular policies and general political dispositions toward the Constitution are serious matters that require a full and open and honest public airing. These are also, as it happens, political questions. Which means that they can only be be answered (and even here only temporarily) in the court of public opinion. Too often, the shouting (to say nothing of the clever subterfuges and uncharitable mis-characterizations) surrounding this process obfuscate rather than draw out our differences.
Taken with charity, Obama's speech on Friday ought to yield much fodder for a civil, intelligent and clarifying debate about America's purposes--both abroad and at home. May the best argument win.