Commentary Magazine


Man of the Left vs. America

Shelby Steele’s must-read column in the Wall Street Journal correctly notes that there is more going on in the country than a rejection of Obama’s “grandiose, thoughtless, and bullying” policymaking. It is a reaction to Obama’s pose as distinct from, and often in opposition to, fellow citizens and American values. At home, he treats fellow citizens as sociological case studies. On the international stage, he views his job as rising above provincial interests (i.e., ours and those of our closet allies). Steele explains that while there is an “otherness” about Obama, it has nothing to do with his birthplace or religion:

Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity — and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned — is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Obama is, as many of us on the right have argued, a cookie-cutter leftist, enamored of the mindset cultivated in universities and among liberal intelligentsia, among whom he repeatedly chose to work and live. The telltale signs are all there — an aversion to projection of American power, a hyper-critical stance toward America’s record on civil rights, a disdain for Wall Street, and, most of all, a fair amount of contempt for average Americans. Or, as Steele puts it:

Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil — I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

And Obama, the liberal intelligentsia never tires of telling us, is as sophisticated and as hip as they come. The results of all this are inevitable:

The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity, or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader.

And what is more, it puts the president in the position of assuming that opposition stems from ill motives, nefarious funding sources, racism, Islamaphobia, and ignorance. We don’t appreciate him because we are confused and scared. We are, in this view, recalcitrant children at best and an unhinged mob at worst.

No wonder he didn’t care what we thought about ObamaCare. What do we know? There’s just one hitch in his approach: Americans get to vote.