Leave it to Rudy Giuliani to create a teachable moment.
As we all now know, Mayor Giuliani went to dinner this week with a who's who of right-wing muckety-mucks there to assess Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Presidential bona fides. When it was over, however, the headlines belonged to New York's delusionally self-obsessed former Mayor . . .
Who decided to lecture Barack Obama on the art of love.
According to Rudy, the President doesn't "love America." Elaborating, Rudy claimed that "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me." He then diagnosed this condition as the consequence of an apparently twisted Presidential upbringing. "He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up", barked America's Mayor. He was never nursed on the mother's milk of "love of this country."
A day later, Rudy had to go on Fox in an effort to explain himself. Our Presidential son of a well-traveled '60s hippie and frustrated Kenyan college student was, according to Rudy, "a patriot." In Rudy-world, however, Obama's patriotism -- which the dictionary plainly defines as "love" of one's country -- is simply over-disguised. The President is just too "critical" of America, said the Mayor. According to Hizzoner, Obama "rarely" says "the things [he] used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things [he] used to hear Bill Clinton say about how much [they] loves[d]America . . .[I]t sounds like he's more of a critic than he is a supporter." Still pressed on Thursday about his comments, the Mayor doubled down. Not only did he refuse to retract them, he announced he'd repeat them.
All this immediately became the fodder for cable diatribes as Rudy turned his latest fifteen minutes of fame into a rhetorical perp walk. Megyn Kelly of Fox called his statement "incendiary." Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post weighed in with the view that a "once . . . important . . . player in American politics" had "marginalized" himself into a "rank partisan willing to say the most outlandish things to get attention." Others called Giuliani "clownish," "unhinged," "vicious" and "offensive." Echoing concerns about the Mayor's resort to otherness pregnant in his reference to Obama's ostensibly different "upbringing," the DNC condemned Rudy for "bigotry," as did other less partisan outlets. The White House just called the comments "horrible."
All this is true. The last charge, moreover, is one to which Giuliani even copped a plea, beginning his Wednesday diatribe by conceding he knew "this was a horrible thing to say." (Memo to the Mayor: when you think something you are about to say is "horrible," that's your brain telling you to shut up.) But let's for a moment ignore the obvious -- the irrationality, the not-so-disguised racism, the over the top narcissism, the in-your-face ignorance that doubles down on a gross error because to do otherwise is apparently a sign of weakness in our "post-truth" political world -- and ask . . .
Along with the song . . .
What is love?
And let's start with what it is not.
As anyone who is happily married knows, it is not cheerleading. The two, in fact, are so opposed that they never travel in the same orbit. Cheerleaders mindlessly root for the home team. There are no hair-brained plays, blown tackles, missed coverages, Hail Marys, historic failures or noble opponents. Cheerleaders live on the sidelines. All is right in their world because it has to be, whether or not it is.
Lovers, in stark contrast, are very much in the game. Mistakes matter. They need to be noticed and corrected. Not because you are better than your spouse or in amoratum, or want him or her to fail. To the contrary, it's entirely because you are their equal and want him or her to succeed.
Lovers are often the only persons trusted enough to perform the delicate task of effective correction. I don't listen to my wife because I agree with everything she says about me. I listen to her because I know that, whatever she says, she has no agenda other than my happiness. The world is full of critics who want to cut you down. She is a critic who wants to build me up.
So, pace Giuliani, lovers are critics. Sometimes, they turn out to be our harshest critics. Almost always, they are our best critics.
Lovers are also honest. In fact, love is impossible without honesty. Then it is just pretense. And dangerous.
Giuliani's take on Obama ignores all of this. Indeed, the problem with Giuliani is not so much that he gets Obama wrong (though he does). The problem is that he gets love wrong.
Obama honestly portrays violent extremism and terrorism as a phenomenon entirely devoid of any legitimate religious impulse. He rightly refuses to equate the views of two billion Muslims with the distorted claims of a relative handful of terrorists, or to hold one of the three great monotheistic religions responsible for abuses committed by a small handful in its name. In doing so, he is being faithful to the best values that define American exceptionalism. We do not condemn Christianity when fundamentalists kill doctors in its name; we should not condemn Islam when terrorist behead captives in its.
The separation of church and state is not simply an institutional divide in this great country. It is also a moral one, where individuals are responsible for their own acts and cannot hide behind a false religious veil fabricated to justify immoral crimes. The Enlightenment taught us many things. One was that morality is too important to be left to the preachers, priests, imams or rabbis.
Giuliani and his supporters have criticized Obama of late for ostensibly failing to name ISIS and our decades-plus fight with terrorism for what they believe it is -- Islamic, or religiously-based and/or sanctioned, terrorism. Obama, however, is right to do so, and he is right to do so for at least two reasons. The first is that the asserted equation is wrong; the vast majority of Muslims and Islamic leaders repudiate terrorism in its entirety. The second is that the terrorists want us to accept their definition of the fight as one between competing religious world views. They want us in effect to clothe their crimes in the legitimacy of religion. Their fight, however, is not about the former and cannot be made legitimate via recourse to the latter.
All this Obama has pointed out carefully over the past year, much to the consternation of his opponents. On this, moreover, he has also been unyielding, again causing frustration in a GOP that thinks it vanquished him last November.
This, however, may be his finest hour.
Because, rather than trumpeting a false view of American exceptionalism that eschews criticism in favor of mere boosterism, he has articulated a compelling vision of moral clarity. That vision avoids the mistake of equating Islam with terrorism. It admits the reality of the historic record, where sins committed in the name of religion have occurred with all too much frequency and across the religious divide. And it condemns ISIS and all violent extremists for the moral evil they practice and preach.
If the question is who loves ya baby, the answer is . . .