I received more negative comments than I ever have from my post yesterday criticizing Obama's call to "restore our image as the last, best hope on Earth. the United States." I think it worthwhile to answer these as they raise important issues about both US politics and blogging in particular.
I confess I was reluctant to make that post after that historic night. The Democratic Party had just nominated the first black candidate in history. This was cause for jubilation. Why post such a thing?
I was as overjoyed as anyone. I have supported Obama. I canvassed for him, made calls for him, was a precinct captain for him, gave money to him, and written passionately about him on this blog.
But on this blog, I try to limit myself to writing only things that I find missing from the broad national discussion that is constituted by the major press and best-known blogs. I refrain from echoing sentiments that have been well-articulated in numerous places by others. I actually feel strongly about this, because I think that bloggers who do so contribute to a sense of "piling on" that often contributes to making American politics more acrimonious in the Internet age.
Reading through the Web yesterday, I found lots of excellent writing that summed up my feelings almost exactly. Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times in particular was a pleasure to read.
But there was one thing I found that no one anywhere had commented on, and that was Obama's statement about "restoring our image as the last, best hope on Earth." So I decided I would make a brief post on that.
Several commenters argued that he was making reference to a speech by Abraham Lincoln concerning the Emancipation Proclamation: "In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth."
If that is the case, he blew it. Lincoln's "last best hope on earth" was the idea that all persons should have inalienable rights, that slavery must be abolished. Obama was referring to America's image in the world. The idea that we are somehow the world's last best hope is not only false, at some level it is what allows people like George Bush and Dick Cheney to sell phoney arguments for foreign wars to the American public.
One comment, by CitizenofReality, singled out as a HuffPost pick, begins: "The shining city on the hill is a myth we all know that. But honestly Bob, for all of our many faults and all the terrible things we have done, we still represent an idea that no other country in the world does."
I respectfully disagree: the United States does not still represent an idea that no other country in the world does. This is a view and understanding of the world that is simply not valid in 2008. I spent much of the 1980s in Central America, was in and out of the Balkans and Eastern Europe throughout the 1990s, and have recently been in India, Argentina and Europe. I have engaged in public and private political discussion in all these places. And whether you are talking to a fisherman in south India, a taxi driver in Argentina, or a factory worker in Germany, you will be hard pressed to find a single person who believes that America "represents an idea that no other country in the world does." I think most Americans would be shocked to discover the nuanced view of the planet that the rest of the world has, especially now that even people in rural India have at least limited access to the Internet.
This, I believe, is a discussion worth having, even though I acknowledge it is not even close to being the central point of our national political dialog at the moment that Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination.
Yes, I feel very proud of my country right now. Yes, I feel like we are going in a better direction. Yes, I am more optimistic right now than I have been in years, maybe in my entire adult life. But even with all that, I am happy to stand my ground, even stick my neck out, to say, calmly and respectfully: no, we are not special. We are not anyone's last best hope. Americans need to learn how to be proud of their country without imagining themselves to be elevated above the rest of the world.