Thursday, February 21, 2008

Do the Obamas Get It?

Peggy Noonan's got some questions on the political difficulties of Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Basically, do they "get" their country?

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don't teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you're losing America, you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

The more I think about it, the less comfortable I am with the idea of a First Lady Michelle Obama.

As the Los Angeles Times reported today, Mrs. Obama's possessed with the demons of destructive negativity - she's riding the wild downer of the left's subway of anti-Americanism. The message? The U.S. as irredeemable monstrosity, the impossibility of upward mobility, the undifferentiated disaster of American public education, etc.:

"The life that I am talking about that most people are living has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl. And this is through Republican and Democratic administrations. It doesn't matter who was in the White House. . . . So if you want to pretend there was some point over the last couple of decades when your lives were easy, I wanna meet you!"

You know, I don't think most Americans expect life to be "easy." Maybe economic entitlement and the leisure of the unpropertied classes is an unrealized economic right that an Obama administration will unlock, after "decades" of unrequited hardship and American suffering.

This isn't the United States I know - not the politics, not the economics, not the demographics - which brings me back one of Noonan's initial queries: "Do the Obamas understand America?"

I don't think so, at least not the hard-working, individualistic, patriotic, down-home (yet not-always-perfect) country of kindness, goodness, and unrelenting democratic progress.

My ideal First Lady recognizes - indeed embodies - just these elements: This is what it means to be American.

I don't think Michelle Obama quite gets it.