If he were a different kind of a person and president, a president named Barack Hussein Obama, who was half-African, lived in Jakarta and had Muslim relations, would have been a wonderful thing: a figure perfectly poised as bridge between two different cultures, to extend an American hand to the Third World and Muslims, and to sell America and democracy to this emerging new world.
We have tried the first part, in a manner of speaking: in Muslim outreach; in apology tours, where he makes amends for his country's shortcomings; and in his support for the mosque near Ground Zero, which he somewhat walked back.
It's in part two, about selling democracy, where he seems to be failing. In Iran, when it showed signs of emerging, he seemed willing to see it stamped out.
Along with the flap over the mosque at ground zero, polls emerged showing one in five people in his own country think he is Muslim himself. The White House says he is Christian and says he prays daily (if you had his poll numbers, you would pray also), but the religion that counts in American politics is that of the country itself.
"America is a nation with the soul of a church," said G.K. Chesterton, and its leaders are its lay preachers. Their dominations were different, some did not go to church, but every iconic American president -- Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Reagan and Kennedy -- believed in a covenant between God and this country, in a special grace on this country, and in a special role for this country, in perfecting itself as a democracy, and becoming a beacon to all of the world.
They saw it as a city on hill, and the last, best hope of humanity; he sees a place with unresolved problems, that throws its weight around in the world. After a campaign that ran on aspiration -- "Yes, we can!" -- he doesn't think his country should do much in terms of world leadership.
He believes in himself, but not in his nation, and certainly not in its moral inheritance. In his eyes, things undone outweigh achievements. If he gets chills from Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, D-Day or Iwo Jima, he has yet to convey it at all.
Newsweek thinks Obama is seen as "the Other," and in this it is right. But he is seen less as a racial and foreign exotic than as a very homegrown type of native elitist: a member of the (largely white) upper class that tends to look down on the white cop from Cambridge, not to mention the bitter people in the small towns of the country, who cling to religion and guns.
These are the writers at Time and at Newsweek, in the social studies and English departments, who are on the wrong side of the 70-30 divides in the country, who see the Tea Party as being "The Other," as scary and "foreign" and strange. It is a matter of attitude, not creed or color.
He is more like his mother, a white anthropologist, than the black Muslim father he saw only rarely. He is not an "angry black man" but a petulant academic.
People don't fear him; they find him annoying. The confusion over his religious faith or lack of it concerns his lack of faith in the country, and the people themselves.
Someday, a Muslim who is an American exceptionalist may run for high office, and win by expressing pride in his country. If Obama did this, it could resolve the confusion. And his faith, as an issue, might cease to exist.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to TheWeekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."