Commentary One: He Doesn’t Appreciate American Culture
I don’t mean that Barack Obama doesn’t speak idiomatic American English, or that he’s unfamiliar with the minefield of customs inherent in any society, or that he owes allegiance to a foreign power, but that he lacks an appreciation and respect for the core American values of exceptionalism, individual effort, individual responsibility, rule of law, and Judeo-Christian heritage.
Mr. Obama spent the majority of his formative years in Hawai’i. His childhood included a year in Seattle shortly after he was born, four years in Indonesia between the ages of six and ten, and back to Hawai’i before leaving for Occidental University at 18. While it’s true that Hawai’i is a US state, my experience living there is that the culture is markedly different from anywhere on the mainland. It is, in many ways, American in name only.
One may argue that thousands of children spend their formative years on foreign soil, because their parents are in the military, or the diplomatic corps, or work for multinational corporations. As a former Army brat, I can say that even as a dependent, your primary cultural influence is the US military. No matter the branch, it’s always ‘Duty, Honor, Country’. The diplomatic corps is a little different, as children may well attend local schools, but there’s still a strong tie to the home country. The cultural influences on children of parents employed by multinationals are more problematical, so I’d think that the level of cultural indoctrination is dependent on how strong the parents are.
In addition to the cultural deviations from the American norm, Mr. Obama cites his mother as his primary adult influence, calling her
“. . . a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.”
in other words, someone who puts their faith in the god of self, rather than the supernatural kind. Given the nature of human psychology, this seems to me self-delusional. Humans yearn to serve a power greater than themselves, and to deny that is to cut off a large part of their humanity. Mr Obama played on that during his 2008 campaign of ‘hope & change’
Americans have long-held that they are a sort of ‘chosen people’. Not in the Jewish sense of being chosen by God, but rather as a people destined to bring liberty and democracy to the oppressed. The idea was likely born with the defeat (with some help from the French and Prussians) of the reigning superpower in 1781. The idea also played some part in the expression of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, as Americans spread rapidly westward, bringing anything but freedom and liberty to the aboriginal peoples.
Mr. Obama’s most widely quoted reference to American Exceptionalism comes from a 5 April 2009 speech:
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
This didn’t sit well with a lot of people, suggesting as it did that Americans were no better than anyone else. The examples he picked are interesting, as the British and the Greeks have a lot to be proud of: the British for inventing the Industrial Revolution and refining the rule of law, and the Greeks for largely inventing Western culture. It’s also true that neither culture has had much impact on the world stage since WW II, and both are currently in the economic and cultural death throes of socialism.
In a very real sense, Mr. Obama was telling Americans that they were has-beens, no longer a source of inspiration to the world. A leader should put his constituency first, and Mr. Obama doesn’t.
Other examples of subordinating his country to others came during his famous ‘apology tour’, when Mr. Obama couldn’t seem to bow low enough to foreign leaders:
Chinese President Hu Jintao
Saudi King Abdullah
Japanese Emperor Akihoto
Even the mayor of Tampa, FL
Americans have a cultural resistance to bowing, a holdover from our colonial days when bowing signified social inferiority. Most Americans understand that bowing is the standard greeting in some cultures, and have no problem executing a bow under those circumstances, or even on formal occasions in the US. The problem many Americans had with Mr. Obama’s bowing is the depth of the bow.
I went to business school on the West Coast, and we had two courses on social customs in Asian countries. Among the things we learned was how and when to bow. Mr. Obama’s bow to the Chinese President is about right, except the courtesy isn’t being returned, but all of the other examples are far to obsequious, especially for the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. He is, indeed, telegraphing subservience, and it’s not a good look on the chief executive.
As an observer at the time noted
“Obama has embarked on a new course that projects humility and an overbearing desire to apologize for America’s past behavior. This is a high-risk strategy that could well backfire; there’s a real danger that the United States will be seen as a soft touch, both by European partners as well as by America’s biggest enemies, from al-Qaeda to the mullahs of Tehran.”
Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, 5 April 2009.
Mr. Obama seems to be rather conflicted on American power:
“Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”
4 June 2009
“No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.”
27 September 2009
“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”
9 October 2009
“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
9 December 2009
The fact is that there’s going to be a ‘big dog’ in any human organization, be it an athletic team or international relationship. If you want things to work to your advantage, you’d do well to be the alpha member, or at least not project weakness.
Mr. Obama is of the mind that those who produce should have the fruits of their labors expropriated for those who don’t:
“My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
13 October 2008
“I just want you to be clear – it’s not that I want to punish your success – I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you – that they’ve got a chance at success too.”
14 October 2008
“Everybody here wants some pie. We want to grow the pie. And then we want a slice of the pie!”
22 October 2008
“We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”
“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
13 July 2012
Americans are big on individual effort. Part of the American mythos, and the reality, is that hard work will yield benefits, and everyone so inclined can be successful, regardless of their background. People come here from all over the world, often with very little to their names, because they believe that they can go as far as their ambition and talent will take them, without interference from an upper social class or government.
Part of Mr. Obama’s worldview is that certain ethnic and social groups are permanently disadvantaged through endemic societal flaws. He thinks that if Person A makes a lot of money, then there is that much less for Person B, and it’s government’s job to ‘correct’ this ‘injustice’. There’s no consideration that Person A may be ambitious, or hard-working, or talented, or some combination thereof. No accounting for the fact that Person B may be a lazy POS with an entitlement mentality. In the Progressive mind, it’s always 1930, and only the beneficence of the wise political class keeps robber barons from enslaving the proletariat while they light cigars with $100 bills.
Meet Julia. She’s the idealized female concocted by the Obama campaign in early 2012 to represent American life in a Progressive world. Starting at age 3, Julia’s life is touched and enhanced through government programs. At no point does she have to take responsibility for her education, health care, or retirement. She attends public schools, a health issue at age 26 is paid for by her parent’s insurance, her career apparently never falters, and her business is successful. It’s a perfect world.
No mention is made of parents, or friends, or a husband. The State is Mother, the State is Father, the State is All. In Mr. Obama’s eyes, only through the State can an individual have a successful, fulfilling life. If a person makes poor decisions, the State is there to take care of them, relieving them of the responsibility to think about what they’re doing. For the individual who can’t or won’t grow up and accept that actions have consequences, it’s a compelling vision. For the people who have to pay for it, not so much.
Rule of Law
One of the tenants of American culture is that the law is applied equally to all. It is adherence to the rule of law that creates a stable society, one that encourages investment and citizenship. Equally importantly, the US Constitution specifies that only Congress has the power to initiate and pass bills. If the President refuses to sign a bill, or vetoes it, Congress can override them. The Constitution has no provision for the President making laws on his own. Yet Mr. Obama has a problem with the rule of law when it thwarts his ambitions.
- Environmental Protection Agency Congress defeated a proposed cap-and-trade law in 2009 that would have ostensibly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and would have certainly dramatically increased electricity costs. Mr. Obama, long a supporter of such legislation remarked in January 2008:
“When I was asked earlier about the issue of coal…under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket…even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad, because I’m capping greenhouse gasses, coal power plants, natural gas…you name it…whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retro-fit their operations.”
In 2011 Mr. Obama’s EPA introduced a host of cap-and-trade regulations . So while the people (through their elected representatives) rejected the program, Mr. Obama introduced it by regulatory fiat.
- Defense Of Marriage Act This federal law was enacted 21 September 1996 defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. On 22 February 2011 the Obama administration instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the law in court, having decided that a provision of the law was unconstitutional. This was a clear usurpation of the separation of powers as defined in the Constitution. Laws may be repealed by the Legislative branch, or nullified by review of the Judicial branch, but the Executive branch has no authority to decide the merits of a law.
- Welfare Reform In 1996 Congress passed a sweeping welfare reform law designed to curtail generational poverty by limiting how welfare benefits were paid. One of the provisions was that a certain percentage of recipients had to get real, actual, jobs after a certain time, or states would lose funding. The law worked so well that welfare rolls were cut in half over the next ten years.
In June 2012, Mr. Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to effectively nullify the work requirement by allowing educational programs to substitute for jobs. Thus the Executive branch again overruled the Legislative branch.
- Immigration Law The courts have held that immigration enforcement is the jurisdiction of the Federal government. In 2011 the administration directed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office started selectively enforcing current immigration laws. Fed up with increasing crime and job loss brought about by illegal immigration, several states brought up legislation to enforce those laws. The Obama Justice department then sued several states, including Arizona, Utah, and Georgia. Thus we had the bizarre spectacle of the Federal government filing lawsuits against states trying to enforce Federal law.
- The DREAM Act This legislation is designed to provide amnesty for children of illegal aliens, the reasoning being that the children didn’t have a say in the matter. Version of this bill have been brought up in Congress since 2001. Most recently, the legislation was defeated in 2011.
On 15 June 2012, Mr. Obama signed an executive order ending the deportation of minors here illegally. The provisions of the order are very similar to the legislation rejected by Congress. For illegal aliens under 30, it amounts to amnesty by fiat.
Among the Western nations, Americans are a religious lot. The first precursors of the nation were the Puritans, after all. Nearly all of our religious cultural heritage come from Europe, where the Christian tradition dominates. The phrase ‘God fearing’ still carries weight in some parts of the country, and many Americans subscribe to the ethos of ‘God, Guns, and Guts’. So we like our leaders to go to church on Sunday, or at least have a Christian affiliation.
So there was no little consternation when Mr. Obama remarked
“”Whatever we once were, we’re no longer a Christian nation.”
“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
6 April 2008
The first remark probably came as a big surprise to the 78% of Americans that identify as Christian. I’d say that when nearly 4 out of 5 people identifies with a group, that’s a defining characteristic. In his speech in June 2007 he goes on to mention other religious affiliations like Muslim, Jewish, and non-believers, all of whom together make up just over 6% of the population. So yeah, Christian nation.
When a person is selected to lead, much effort is put into deciding if they are a good fit for the organization. Do they believe in the mission, are they comfortable with the culture, will they work to further organizational goals, do they understand who the stakeholders are, do they have a vision for the future? Someone who isn’t invested in the organization is a poor fit as a leader, and more damaging than a poor leader whose interests are at least congruent with those of the stakeholders.