For most ordinary Americans, those not encumbered with an expensive education or infected by prolonged exposure to cosmopolitan heterodoxy, patriotism is a consequence of birth.It was not a gaffe, Baker reminds us, and there are lessons to be learned in Mrs. Obama's words:
Their chests swell with pride every time they hear the national anthem at sporting events. They fill up with understandable emotion whenever they see a report on television about the tragic heroics of some soldier or Marine who gave his life in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Foreigners don't have to like America - and they've certainly exercised that freedom in the past few years. But most Americans can distinguish between the transience of policy failure and the permanence of the national ideal.
And surely even critics of the US could scarcely deny that there have been real causes for American pride in the past 25 years....
But not, apparently, Michelle Obama, wife of the man who is now the putative Democratic candidate for US president, and at this point favourite to succeed to that job. In what might be the most revealing statement made by any political figure so far in this campaign season, Mrs Obama caused a stir this week. She said that the success of her husband Barack's campaign had marked the first time in her adult life that she had felt pride in her country.
First, it reinforced the growing sense of unease that even some Obama supporters have felt about the increasingly messianic nature of the candidate's campaign. There's always been a Second Coming quality about Mr Obama's rhetoric. The claim that his electoral successes in places like Nebraska and Wisconsin might transcend all that America has achieved in its history can only add to that worry.You know, it's really gratifying to read these words, as I've been making essentially the same case on this blog for the last week or two.
Secondly, and more importantly, I suspect it reveals much about what the Obama family really thinks about the kind of nation that America is. Mrs Obama is surely not alone in thinking not very much about what America has been or done in the past quarter century or more. In fact, it is a trope of the left wing of the Democratic party that America has been a pretty wretched sort of place.
There is a caste of left-wing Americans who wish essentially and in all honesty that their country was much more like France. They wish it had much higher levels of taxation and government intervention, that it had much higher levels of welfare, that it did not have such a “militaristic” approach to foreign policy. Above all, that its national goals were dictated, not by the dreadful halfwits who inhabit godforsaken places like Kansas and Mississippi, but by the counsels of the United Nations.
Though Mr Obama has done a good job, as all recent serious Democrats have done, of emphasising his belief in American virtues, his record and his programme suggest he is firmly in line with this wing of his party.
This, I think, not his inexperience in public office, is the principal threat to Mr Obama's campaign. His increasingly desperate opponent, Hillary Clinton, keeps hammering away that his message is all talk and no substance - and she was joined this week by Mr Obama's likely Republican opponent in the November general election, John McCain.
But if you listen to Mr Obama's speeches, it is not the lack of substance but the quality of it that ought to worry Americans. His victory speech after his latest primary win in Wisconsin this week was a case in point.
Look at what Obama says. Far from bereft, there's real substance to his talk of American failure at home and abroad.
See my entries, "Barack Obama's Extraordinary Detail," and "Obama's Substance."
Considering Hillary Clinton nearly conceded in her debate summation last night, an increased focus on Obama's substantive positions is all the more vital.