Obama’s Rhetoric on Country and Patriotism

Let’s compare President Barack Obama’s remarks in his Labor Day speech with some of his previous remarks about patriotism.

From Labor Day, September 5, 2011, in Detroit:

“We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party … You say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well, then prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.”

And then, his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

“Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight … We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?”

His June 30, 2008, speech on patriotism in Independence, MO:

“I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine. … Of course, precisely because America isn’t perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader, or government, or policy.”

And his speech the day prior to Election day, 2008:

“In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. Despite what our opponents may claim, there are no real or fake parts of this country. There is no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else — we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots.”

The latter three quotes were Obama’s critique of the debate about the Iraq War. Obama believed that critics of the decision to invade Iraq were being unfairly tarred as unpatriotic, and he was right. We can argue he merits of the invasion all we want, but there are legitimate points on both sides of it. Those who didn’t support the Iraq War shouldn’t have their love of and loyalty to the U.S.A. called into question.

But it seems like Obama has no problem with doing exactly that when it comes to people who disagree with his economic policies. He routinely claims that they are putting selfish interests ahead of their country. He routinely derides them as engaged in “political posturing” or “political gamesmanship”. He routinely questions their motives and their patriotism.

He acts as if it’s just obvious that his own policies are correct. And, given that starting point, he can’t fathom how anyone could oppose him in the spirit of good faith. The only explanation, therefore, is bad faith. His opponents are putting party before country. They’re not straight shooters. Unlike himself, of course, who never lowers himself to mere “politicking”.

This hypocrisy — calling for civil debate while at the same time demonizing his opponents — is nothing new for Obama. His stump speech as a U.S. senator involved calling Republicans social Darwinists, and his March 2010 speech pushing for passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA “ObamaCare”) involved saying that they have no sense of community or neighborliness. Obama has a long-standing habit — common among politicians — of denigrating his opponents as being beholden to “special interests”. And Obama’s hypocrisy itself is common among politicians: President George W. Bush frequently spoke of the need to “change the tone” of politics, but did little to defend the patriotism of his Democratic opponents.

It has always been an open secret that Obama is an average politician in the sense that he is only a sometime defender of civility. Just like the average politician, he resorts to name-calling, and says nothing as his colleagues — for instance, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) — do it, too. And when someone — say, Tea Party member Ryan Rhodes — points out that his team is engaging in invective (i.e., VP Joe Biden’s “terrorist” accusation), he resorts to the average politician’s dodge: claim that you’re the victim, point out that people have called you names.

Of course it’s true that Obama has been called names. Of course it’s true that he’s been a victim of political invective. But just because your stuff gets stolen doesn’t mean you’re not a thief. And just because you’re a victim of political invective doesn’t mean you’re not also a perpetrator of it.

Again, the evidence for this has been on display for years. I never understood how Obama gained a reputation for being such a smart, high-minded politician that he would charitably and accurately describe his opponents without stooping to demonizing or caricature. To the contrary, he’s been doing it all along.

With this latest Labor Day diatribe, maybe media and public perception will finally catch up to reality.

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