What Michelle Obama Should Know

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?

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11 Responses to What Michelle Obama Should Know

  1. M. Harris says:

    While I do agree with the overall sentiment that as Americans we are unified by:

    “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…”

    It is very important to note that we haven’t always lived up to these words which is evidenced by the fact that the author of these words, Thomas Jefferson was in fact a slaveowner. From the time that Thomas Jefferson wrote those words until now we’ve fought a civil war and we’ve had various civil rights movements to ensure that those words were more than just letters on a piece of paper for many Americans.

    Though I don’t agree with all the politics of Barack Obama and acknowledge that his partys platform lacks substance, I do believe that is entirely fair for any Black American including Michele Obama to feel more pride in America than at any point in history. And that sense of pride shouldn’t be limited to just Black Americans.

    I say this not because of the words or politics of her husband, Barack Obama. I say this because history proves that we have not always lived up to the truthes that we say we hold so evident. The fact that in 2008 a black man could be judged by the same standards as a white woman (Hillary Clinton) and white men (John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and etc) for the highest and most important job in the country illustrates a realization and forfillment of this the following phrase and a dismissal of it.

    “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…”

    It’s important to remember that at other times in our history the possibility of Barack Obama being the Democrat nominee for President of the United States wasn’t even a remote possibility. I’m proud of my country for many reasons and I’m especially proud now.

    With that said I disagree with Barack Obama on a lot of points and issues. I do find his message to be inspiring. But if only we could take the audacity of hope and then lace it with the principles of less government and personal responsiblity and if only we could say yes we can without playing modern day Robin Hood. Maybe one day we will realize there is a difference between treating people equally and making people equal. One is in line with the truthes we hold evident, the other is not.

  2. Michael,

    I agree with much of what you say. It is a tribute to the strengths of our founding principles, that most voters are approaching his candidacy exactly as you say.

    As far as the Jefferson/slavery issue—how sadly true, but yet our founding principles acted as a lighthouse to help us navigate away from that and other errors. And remember the world of the 1700s –we were not far away from bloody religious wars in the western world.

    There is no doubt in my mind that eventually mankind will evolve to the point where there is liberty for all. When that future history is written, the American experiment will remain one of the most important events on that journey.

  3. E says:

    Concur. If I was buying the Obama cool-aid, I’d say, “darn, that whole thing about ‘E Pluribus Unum’ was actually Obama’s idea.” The problem here is that when you look at his positions, there is not a shred of originality or “inspiration” there. The truth is he unites one side of the Democratic party. Whether he can “unite” all Americans, we’ll have to wait and see.

  4. E says:

    “E Pluribus Unum” is latin for “from many, one”

  5. E,

    As we have seen in the current housing crisis there is no way to unite Americans around unprincipled ad-hoc policies that take from one group for the benefit of other groups.

  6. E says:

    Prof B,

    If Obama was truly revolutionary, and an “agent for change”, he would be yelling from the top of his lungs that we must stop the bleeding in Social Security. He would be hammering the national airwaves with a message to pay down the debt. He would be telling the truth about the state of the economy, which is that we are way over-extended. But… he’s not. He’s just recycling old policy for “tax rebates” and “tax breaks” for this group or that group. In short, there is little change there.

  7. E says:

    Sorry, the previous passage should have read “If Obama were …”. Too many mistakes. I hate poor grammar. I’m in a hurry. Too many things to do at work.

  8. E says:

    Last point, we should not, we cannot hold historical figures to modern-day standards, for being captive of their place/culture/ethos in time (the whole Jefferson/slavery issue). It’s pointless. Historical figures should be judged for their thoughts/actions in their era.

  9. M. Harris says:

    E,

    To be clear I wasn’t judging Thomas Jefferson.

    I agree with you on all the policy issues. Obama does a great job of unifying people around the basic Democratic Party platform. So you’re right it really isn’t change in that regard. However, I don’t think the American people or those on the left think deep enough to realize that bigger government isn’t the answer to all their problems, so recycled old ideas is all that they have.

    Most of them are crying for socialism to solve all of their problems. They are willing to give up their freedoms for security. Personal responsibility isn’t something that we find unifying these days and inspiring. Maybe this is because socialism is being pushed by our liberal arts institutions and liberty is being passed off as neoliberalism.

    With that said if we choose to be critical of Michele Obama for not recognizing the first unifying principle of liberty for all, then I think it’s only fair and balanced to point out that liberty for all has not always included her or people like her. At the beginning of her husband’s candidacy she expressed doubt that her husband could win the nomination, simply on the basis of race. I think she found those doubts to be unfounded. I think context is very important if a longer point is to be made.

    I think the larger point is very important, but I think it gets lost when we decide to go after Michele Obama on this particular comment.

  10. Frank v2 says:

    Politics is always a dangerous topic to stick one’s two cents worth in, but I have to say I am a little amazed by the momentum that the Obama team has gotten with their so called “Change” campaign. What I find interesting is that there really is no substance or real platform that I can see underneath this campaign, yet the masses seem to be embracing it. I can’t help but think that we have become a nation that really doesn’t wish to face the issues head-on: we prefer to live in the Care-Bear world of soft and fuzzy promises. This campaign feels like a Seinfeld episode: a show about nothing. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised by Obama’s huge support. After all we are a country that grew up on Seinfeld and many of us were very much saddened when the series went of the air. Perhaps we are seeking a more innocent time and are looking forward to a Seinfeld character in the White house. In fact, the more I think about it perhaps the Republicans should see if Jerry himself is available as a potential candidate! He might be the only one that could give Obama a run for his money. Just a thought. 🙂

  11. E says:

    Michael (M Harris),

    You make good points. I concur with your assessment of the American people on the Democratic side crying for some form of socialism, personal responsibility references, and so forth. We are in agreement with respect to policy.

    However, I take issue with the last portion of your statement.

    I think most Americans, if not all Americans, realize that “liberty for all” has not always included them, in general, and “[Michele] or people like her” specifically. This is a fact of life that Americans understand — life is not fair. It never has been. You’re always playing black-jack against the house. The deck is always stacked — whether you’re Chinese, Latino, Souix, Mohawk, African American, Muslim, Egyptian, Dutch German Appalachian, etc. Liberty is a word that has had different meaning for different people. “Liberty … or the price of pain to the King and Stamp Taxes.” “Liberty… or live under the yolk of Lincoln.” “Liberty … or be a slave to communism.” Liberty is a word created by power-brokers to stoke the flames of mass discontent and to brace particular causes. This is what Prof B is referring to, and this is an issue I concur with. To hear Michele Obama tell it, to consider the “unity” claims based upon the issue of race alone, Colin Powell could never have run for President; he never stood a chance. General Powell would have been creamed by Al Gore like 99% to 1%. We had to wait until her husband came along at this very moment in time to unite the country. For this fallacy alone, it is wellnigh disengenuous to claim it on this instant point (polling in 2000 showed otherwise).

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