Can Barack Obama walk a political/cultural tightrope to success on Election Day?
On Monday, he gave a well-written speech on patriotism. He noted that "at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged--at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for." And unlike Democrats of the past--Michael Dukakis comes to mind--Obama is not going to give an inch in any battle over who is really a patriot. In the speech, he described the wellsprings of his own patriotism:
One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather's shoulders and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii. I remember the cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do. That's my idea of America.
I remember listening to my grandmother telling stories about her work on a bomber assembly-line during World War II. I remember my grandfather handing me his dog-tags from his time in Patton's Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride. That's my idea of America.
I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence--"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That's my idea of America.
Obama declared, "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign." Which is not such a big promise to make. (He's going to call McCain unpatriotic?) And he defined patriotism to include dissent (such as the whistleblowing of the soldier who first revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib) and sacrifice. But what was intriguing was how Obama blended a championship of dissent with a belief in American exceptionalism. In fact, he noted that in order for the former to be legitimate if must be cloaked with the latter: