Barack Obama has been called many things: Messiah, Redeemer, a Lightworker (?!), Jedi Knight, the New Testament to JFK’s Old Testament, a "quantum leap in America’s consciousness," and so on. But Jonah Goldberg in trying to understand (and NOT, I’d add, question) Obama’s patriotism, makes the case that Obama’s patriotism is trans-figurative. In other words, Obama argues that his patriotism can be seen in his views about "what will make America great." [emphasis mine] Jonah, like a Jewish mother, asks "What? It’s not great now?" Why does Obama think it needs to be "made" great? And how does this square with his speech yesterday at Independence, MO where he stated that, "Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given." If she needs to be "made great" why is your love for her a given?
Contrast Obama’s sentiment for America--his "given" love for a thing that still needs to be "made great"--with Abraham Lincoln’s expression of admiration for Henry Clay:
He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.In other words, Henry Clay’s love of country was also (though only in part) a given. We all love the things that are our own--sometimes even when they don’t deserve our affection. If this is the sense in which Barack Obama means patriotism, he is right to argue that it is no great testament to a man. It is inhuman not to love oneself and one’s own. But the real test of love--the kind of love that deserves the highest admiration and respect--is whether that love has ever asked and given a good accounting for the "why?" of itself. What is worthy of our love in this country we call our own? Not "do" we love her, but "why" do we love her? It is only in answering this question that we can aspire to be worthy of her and call ourselves Americans in the best sense (and not the mere factual sense) of the term.
It seems to me that Barack Obama has got it all wrong. America does not need to be "made great"--she was great from the beginning when, on that first of Independence Days, we declared:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.The problem now, as it always has been, is that Americans need to continue to make themselves worthy of her. It goes without saying (or, perhaps, not) that any number of Americans have failed to live up to Americas ideals over the centuries. We continue to see examples of that today and (God willing and the nation endures) we will always see these examples. But our failures to be good Americans do not mean that America is a failure as a force for good in the world. If Obama were merely saying that we can do better by making ourselves worthy of our own founding principles, that would be one thing. And then we could have a conversation about how we might go about doing that and, of course, we could have legitimate disagreements about the best way to proceed. But he is not saying that. He’s saying that we need "make America great" and he is dismissing patriotism as a "given" because he sees it as something ordinary. He argues that his ideals can transfigure America. In truth, what we really need is to look to a deeper understanding of patriotism and then to transfigure ourselves accordingly. What we really need is to learn to "love [our] country partly because it is [our] own country, but mostly because it is a free country" and we need to "[burn] with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because [we see] in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature."
UPDATE: I note in passing that it is interesting to see that in his speech yesterday, Obama noted Lincoln’s arguments in favor of suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War as a questionable use of patriotism . . .