As early as May 2008, Newsweek was warning us that Republicans would try to make President Barack Obama “The Other” — a strange, foreign entity, a “dangerous black man,” a Muslim, an alien, a stranger to all we hold dear.
We should be so lucky as that someday someone will see him as dangerous (aside from, of course, the Israelis, the Poles, the Czechs and other exposed and insecure allies), but some fringe elements have indeed raised questions about his birth, his nationality, his Muslim relations (his father and step-father) and his allegiance to the country he leads.
Let us be clear that this is disgusting; that he was fairly elected and is really the president; that he is not an alien but a native and loyal American; that if he were Muslim, it should not make a difference; and that there is no reason to believe that he does not wish the best for his country, according, of course, to his lights.
But it’s the matter of lights that is the real question, for those are different from those of many, if not most, Americans, and of the 43 others (with the likely exception of one James Earl Carter) who sat in the seat Obama now holds.
It was in 1831 that Alexis de Tocqueville first defined an American character that has remained in place through many years and even more immigrants, and survives as it was to this day.
This is the “exceptionalism” that defines us as “different.” We are more mobile, more restless and risk-taking; more creative and violent, more independent (less trusting in government), more moralistic and possessed by a sense of a God-driven mission to bring freedom’s light to the world.
In this sense, Obama is truly “The Other,” but not in the sense that Newsweek predicted. Our first half-African president, he’s also the most European in outlook. Bloggers have tagged him less as our first black than as our first Scandinavian president, or as our first Jewish president (the urban liberal model, not the Israeli, which is a whole other kettle of fish.)
In most of the ways that Americans differ from others, Obama comes down on the foreigners’ side. He favors equality over liberty, security over growth and “fairness” over prosperity, preferring an economy in which a smaller pie is apportioned in more equal pieces to one in which there are wide variations in the range of allotments, but in which everybody gets a lot more.
Likewise, he prefers a world in which nations are equal, or pretend that they are, at the critical price of a shortfall in leadership. Where others see pride, he tends to see bluster and arrogance.
Rather than the “city on a hill” beloved by Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy, he sees the country as a subdivision on the downward slope of the mountain, where most of the buildings are badly in need of repair.
Obama’s ideas are not anti-American, and they are held by millions who are not “alien,” Muslim or black. They are held by the 20 percent of the country that calls itself “liberal,” by the third and fourth generations of dynastic families, and in college towns, in certain elite metropolitan neighborhoods and in the newsrooms of what some call the expiring media.
(Oddly enough, they are held less in Old Europe, which is responding to Obama by becoming like Tocqueville’s Americans, standing up where he doesn’t to despots in Iran and in Latin America. Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy would no doubt roll over, but then, c’est la vie.)
Obama was elected because millions of Americans wanted to put race behind them, and because his rise fit into the themes of ambition and “churning” that are unique to this country. But it seems now that his sympathy for creative destruction doesn’t extend much beyond his campaign.
Obama won American hearts on his biography and is losing them now because of his policies. “The Other” in that he is anti-exceptional, Obama is the exception to the most loved and esteemed of American presidents. Soon, the American people may start taking exception to that.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”