It’s downright Orwellian the way that Michelle Obama’s words are being parsed by her defenders these last 48 hours. It is a version of “Newspeak” the author would have instantly recognized. Substituting emotion for meaning was one of the psychological tricks of the totalitarians. Hence, we have those who explain away Mrs. Obama’s statement about her husband’s candidacy – that for the first time in her adult life, she was “really proud” of America – by referring to some nebulous feeling Mrs. Obama may have had when uttering the words:
Iâ€™m not sure what Michelle Obama meant, but being a black person with privilege and access often makes you more aware of American inequality, not less, and it wouldnâ€™t surprise me if thatâ€™s what Michelle was referring to. Try living in say, New Orleans or Newark for a few years and see how proud of your country it makes you.
Being “aware of American inequality” – as opposed to British, French or even Chinese inequality? – is what she “meant?” Perhaps if we were all speaking Newspeak.
They are questioning her patriotism and saying that her statement means she has never been proud or very proud of anything about America before. Their accusations are without merit for many reasons. One reasons is because anyone who is even mildly objective knows that she was speaking in the moment to a crowd. Another reason is that any reasonable person would believe that a woman seeing her husband (of any race) have a real chance to be president would be the proudest moment in her life and no reasonable person would believe she meant sheâ€™d never been proud of this country before.
They are questioning her patriotism and saying that her statement means she has never been proud or very proud of anything about America before.
Setting up the strawman while denying in no uncertain terms that she ever uttered the words that she had “never been really proud” of America in her adult life takes a special kind of obtuseness; the kind that doesn’t allow reality to intrude too often into one’s thoughts. The question of “patriotism” shouldn’t enter into the criticism. One can criticize what she said solely on the basis of the idea that both Obama and his wife are extraordinarily self-centered – mesmerized by their own greatness. Like the Clinton’s, “it’s all about them!”
One reasons is because anyone who is even mildly objective knows that she was speaking in the moment to a crowd
Um…no. She made the statement twice. Both times she was reading the speech. There was absolutely nothing “in the moment” about it. If you’re going to excuse stupidity, please get your facts straight.
Another reason is that any reasonable person would believe that a woman seeing her husband (of any race) have a real chance to be president would be the proudest moment in her life and no reasonable person would believe she meant sheâ€™d never been proud of this country before
Because she was proud of her husband no “reasonable” person could say she wasn’t proud of America? A logical fallacy if there ever was one. There is no connection between pride in husband and pride in country – none, zero, zilch. But it sure sounds good in Newspeak!
What all this boils down to is that people are refusing to acknowledge the clear meaning behind the unambiguous words of the wife of a man running for president. While Orwell would get a kick out of liberal bloggers employing the tactics of his totalitarians, we are stuck with condemning such “liberalspeak” for what it is – an attempt to use language not as a means of communication but as a means of control. If the words spoken by Michelle Obama do not mean what she clearly intended them to mean then those who can redefine what she meant hold enormous power over the rest of us by having the ability to alter reality whenever it suits them.
I’ve written about this many times over the last three years, perhaps most extensively here. Glenn Greenwald chose to redefine the term “chickenhawk” in order to cut down a columnist who dared take the left to task for their idiocy and illogic in formulating the word in the first place. Greenwald or one of his many fans then altered the definition in less than 24 hours in Wikpedia – more evidence of Newspeak:
Even if Waldo or one of his minions did not rush to alter the Wikpedia definition to reflect his revised, made up definition, the point still stands; when losing an argument, the left invariably tries to change the parameters of the narrative rather than attempt to win on the merits or on logic. They view language with a fluidity that lacks the proper respect for and understanding of the importance of commonality of usage â€“ that we all must use the same reference points when talking with each other. Otherwise, we talk past each other rather than with one another.
Instead of trying to parse and twist what Obama said, the left should have been trying to defend her intent and meaning; that there is nothing that has happened in Michelle Obama’s adult life that made her proud of her own country. (Sorry but I don’t buy the super-parsing between the idea that she was not “really proud” of America only “proud.” The adjective “really” is superfluous to the word “proud.” You are either proud or you are not proud. There are no gradations of pride that I know of.)
It is true that the left has been so ashamed of being liberal that they have desperately sought to cloak their proposals as “post partisan problem solving” or even trying to hide them as “moderate” ideas.” Shame is a dominating feature of modern liberalism. If you don’t feel “shame” for the sin of racism, you are not an authentic liberal. If you’re not “ashamed” of America for its imperialist warmongering, you are just not in the club.
This has been the dominant theme of liberal ideology since the rise of the New Left back in the 60’s, culminating in the nomination of a man who spoke the “New Leftspeak” fluently; George McGovern:
So join with me in this campaign. Lend Senator Eagleton and me your strength and your support, and together we will call America home to the ideals that nourished us from the beginning.
From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America
From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America.
From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick—come home, America.
Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.
Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world, and let us be joyful in that homecoming, for this â€œis your land, this land is my land—from California to New York island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters—this land was made for you and me.â€
Do you hear McGovern’s echo in Obama’s impassioned pleas for change? Do you feel his shame and recognize it is the same kind of shame felt by Michelle Obama that her country has done nothing right in her adult lifetime that would allow her to feel pride in her America’s accomplishments?
This isn’t a question as some on the left have hopefully suggested that white conservatives can’t feel her pain and that our frame of reference is so different that we can’t understand from where her shame is coming. There are plenty of instances in the last 35 years I have been ashamed to be an American:
- I was ashamed to be an American when the “smoking gun” tape was released and I realized the President was an obstructer of justice. I was not a supporter of Nixon. But it saddened me immensely to find out the President broke the law to save his political hide.
- I was ashamed to be an American when the weakest, most incompetent president in American history allowed our hostages – taken in a brazen act of war recognized as such by international law – to languish in an Iranian prison while part of the world laughed at our impotency and the other part wrung its hands in fear and frustration at our weakness.
- I was ashamed to be an American when the Soviets marched into Afghanistan and our president responded by cutting off grain shipments. This after telling us we must get over our “inordinate fear” of communism.
- I was ashamed to be an American when I realized my political hero Ronald Reagan traded arms to those same fanatics for hostages in contravention of his own policy not to deal with terrorists.
- I was ashamed to be an American when it became clear that the White House, the Commerce Department, and other agencies of government were for sale under the Clinton Administration.
- I was ashamed to be an American when a gay man was dragged by a pick up truck full of bigots to his death.
- I was ashamed to be an American when some right wing fanatic bombed the olympics in Atlanta. His bombing of abortion clinics didn’t make me feel proud either.
- I was ashamed to be an American when it was proven the President of the United States lied under oath and denied an American citizen her right to a fair hearing in a court of law of her lawsut against him. He lied for the same reason Nixon lied – to save his political hide.
I’m sure there are plenty of other instances where my government or the country has let me down and I’ve felt shame in being an American. Bu to say I have no frame of reference to feel shame for America is silly and stupid and only reveals the ignorance of anyone who would make such an argument.
The point isn’t that Obama didn’t feel proud of America for any one of dozens of selfless, self-sacrificing acts by the American government or the millions such acts by her citizens. Or taking pride in America’s force of arms to free first Kuwait then Afghanistan and finally Iraq from tyrannical regimes and occupation. One can be so self absorbed as the Obamas apparently are and allow the world to pass them by, taking note of only what affects them personally or their own little worlds they have created be they a community organizer or a PR executive.
The real problem with Mr. and Mrs. Obama is that they may know what Americans want to hear but they have no clue as to what makes Americans tick. Not on a psychological level which is where they are targeting their appeals. But at the level of the American soul.
American exceptionalism is more than empty platitudes about America’s greatness that usually drive many liberals and foreigners batty. It is something most Americans I have come across feel deeply about – so deeply that it transcends convention and becomes a part of our character as a people. Being proud of America is not a prerequisite for patriotism. But it should be if you want to be president. To not recognize the uniqueness of America to the point that you are bursting with pride at a million different times in your life shows a disassociation with the American public that should disqualify someone from being president.
There are troubling signs in his speeches that Obama believes this campaign is about him and his “movement” rather than America and its future. His speeches are self-referential – a trait noticed by both left and right critics of the man and his candidacy. Michelle Obama’s revelatory remarks about how she feels about this country are a part of this denial of the exceptional nature of America. And that is why what she actually said and meant should be taken into account when deciding whether to vote for her husband.