Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, made headlines recently by questioning whether or not President Obama loves America. The mayor's question has hung in the air like three day old fish, stinking up our political discourse from the salons of Manhattan to the dinner parties in Georgetown. I'm sure the Sunday shows will talk about little else. What to think...
It is generally bad form to cast about impugning the patriotic commitments of politicians. For one thing, patriotism is so difficult to define. Love of country is hard to quantify. For instance, I certainly love America, but I don't love everything about it. I hate the political dysfunction that has produced 18 trillion dollars in debt. I hate the career political class from both parties who have, House-of-Cards-style, made a mockery of the democratic process. So my love is selective. I'm generally suspicious of those who claim to love their country "right or wrong," in much the same way as I am suspicious of a parent who loves their kids so much that it renders them blind to their faults. There is such a thing as loving something too much, after all.
But, generally speaking, my default emotion towards my country is something close to love. In the President's case, as with most Progressives, it seems more complicated. He is a product of a political philosophy which views America, from its founding, as a deeply flawed place. Progressives have always viewed America's successes with suspicion. The Declaration of Independance? Just a document designed to preserve white privilege. The Constitution? Simply a straight jacket designed to encumber the power and benevolence of the central government. The industrial Revolution? Ill-gotten gains accrued on the backs of slave labor. In the Progressive view of history, America isn't a shining city on a hill or even a beacon for freedom for the oppressed, but rather a racist, misogynistic, greedy collection of rubes and hicks who need to be controlled by the enlightened from each coast. America is something which needs to be constantly and continually radically transformed from something base to something better, and the only people capable of this redemption all happen to be...Progressive.
So, when the President tells us to get off of our moral high horse over ISIS because of Jim Crow laws from fifty years ago, it feeds into the suspicion that he is much more comfortable criticizing our sins than he is criticizing the sins of our enemies. He is the only President in my lifetime who's rhetoric always seems to soar highest when he is taking us to task for our national sins.
Still, I have no doubt that the President loves America. I am equally confident that President Obama knew that George Bush also loved America in 2008 when he accused him of being "unpatriotic" for piling up 4 trillion dollars onto the national debt. It was a Presidential campaign and people get riled up and say things that they wish they could take back. Mayor Giuliani was wrong for making such an accusation about a sitting President.
While I love America for what it is and has been, a force for good in the world, an intrinsic love...the President loves America for what it has the potential to become if it adopts his policies. Perhaps that is a different kind of love, but it is love nonetheless. America's past and present sins do nothing to alter my love of country, primarily because I know that every nation in the history of mankind has closets filled with skeletons. But simple love of country does not blind me to criticism of it or a desire to fix what ails her. In this way, I suppose, the President and I agree.