February 19, 2008

Feels Like The First Time

Does a hostility about one's own country provide a good basis for a campaign? John Podhoretz notes the very strange assertion from Michelle Obama as she campaigned for her husband in Wisconsin. It comes as a piece with her exhortation at UCLA two weeks ago that she sees Barack Obama as the only person who can see that the souls of Americans are broken and that only his presidency can fix them (via Memeorandum):

Michelle Obama today said that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction.”

Really proud of her country for the first time? Michelle Obama is 44 years old. She has been an adult since 1982. Can it really be there has not been a moment during that time when she felt proud of her country? Forget matters like the victory in the Cold War; how about only things that have made liberals proud — all the accomplishments of inclusion? How about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s elevation to the Supreme Court? Or Carol Moseley Braun’s election to the Senate in 1998? How about the merely humanitarian, like this country’s startling generosity to the victims of the tsunami? I’m sure commenters can think of hundreds more landmarks of this sort. Didn’t she even get a twinge from, say, the Olympics?

Mrs. Obama was speaking at a campaign rally, so it is easy to assume she was merely indulging in hyperbole. Even so, it is very revealing.

It suggests, first, that the pseudo-messianic nature of the Obama candidacy is very much a part of the way the Obamas themselves are feeling about it these days. If they don’t get a hold of themselves, the family vanity is going to swell up to the size of Phileas Fogg’s hot-air balloon and send the two of them soaring to heights of self-congratulatory solipsism that we’ve never seen before.

This problem occurs with Michelle Obama much more than with her husband. He has focused on positive themes of hope and change. Mrs. Obama has focused on how great Mr. Obama really is and how fortunate we are to have him. If she left it at that, it would be unremarkable; the job of spouses on the stump are to convince people that they have married the smartest and most reliable husbands or wives possible, and if we knew Hubby/Wife like they knew Hubby/Wife, etc.

Unfortunately, Michelle Obama has a habit of going much too far in promoting what is becoming a personality cult. First she explicitly says that only she and Barack can diagnose the condition of our souls, a highly arrogant claim and one that casts Obama as some sort of secular Messiah. Next, she informs us that we cannot take pride in America unless Obama wins the election. The purpose of the entire country, it seems, is to hoist Obama on our shoulders, and anything else would be what -- shameful?

America has done plenty over the last 26 years to make its citizens proud, as well as much open to criticism. Podhoretz notes some of the accomplishments in which all of us can take pride. Our relentless opposition to the oppression of Communism freed half of Europe from its forty years of darkness. We liberated Kuwait from the depredations of Saddam Hussein's regime. Both as a government and as a people, we responded to the tsunami in 2005 and helped rescue millions of people from disease, famine, and death.

But we've done more than that. We've raised the standard of living so that even the poor in this nation own their own homes and live better than the average person in many European cities. We have freed information so that everyone can access it on the Internet, which has become a means to fight oppression around the world. America has plenty of accomplishments in which our citizens can take pride, if one bothers to look.

Perhaps Michelle Obama might want to take a look at the country she wants to help lead before staking a claim for her husband as President.


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