Last week, Michelle Obama, while campaigning for her husband in the Wisconsin primary, said: “Let me tell you, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country.”
Many columns have been written about what she really meant, and why her comments don’t matter anyway because she is only Senator Obama’s wife. The “only a wife” defense is ridiculous. While happy marriages frequently unite individuals with different personalities or preferences, they rarely unite individuals for long with different fundamental values. In any case, Michelle has been an active advisor in her husband’s campaign; and her views, especially given Senator Obama’s lack of a track record, are not to be dismissed lightly.
Later in that same speech, Michelle Obama said: “I see people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues and it makes me proud.”
The level of hubris and ignorance reflected Mrs. Obama’s speech is startling, but it represents nothing new in American politics. The idea that Americans have had nothing to unify them until Senator Obama came along is ridiculous. Throughout the centuries, shared beliefs in fundamental principles have united the American people and have made the American experiment unique in history.
The first unifying principle is the idea of liberty for all. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s transcendent words:
We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
No other country in the history of the world has been founded on the idea that liberty is an innate right of all human beings and it is not granted to them by any government on earth. One does not have to study history for too long to see the terrible consequences of the idea that rights and privileges are granted to you by whoever is ruling over you. Hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century alone were slaughtered because the core belief in the idea of liberty for all was not widespread. Even today, this belief is not widespread.
Today, many societies are still organized around the principle of supremacy of the tribe rather than around the principle of liberty for all. In such countries, many feel justified in slaughtering their own countrymen because they are from a different tribe.
The second principle that Americans have been united around is the idea of a “melting pot.” A “melting pot” can be successful only when everybody is united around the first principle of liberty for all. So moved were they by this principle of liberty for all that millions of new immigrants wept when they first spotted the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. At the base of the Statue are inscribed Emma Lazarus’s immortal words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
I am proud of the American experiment. We have made many mistakes and continue to do so. In the end, those mistakes may cause this experiment in liberty to fail. If it does, it will be because many Americans are ignorant of our founding principles.
I am no jingoistic patriot, and I feel no anger about Michelle Obama’s words. I am saddened, however, because I know her words reflect the sentiment shared by many. I am saddened because I have little doubt that neither her husband nor John McCain share—or understand—the great founding, transcendent principles that have united Americans for so long.
Michelle Obama you are wrong; Americans are not united around the ad-hoc positions advocated by your husband. The only thing Barack Obama’s positions have in common is that he is advocating them. How can there be unity around a message with no principles behind them?