Bill Clinton was the first postmodern president. He never could quite get to the truth because he was too busy deconstructing the language: “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” This was annoying, but proved to be mostly innocuous as the country was concerned. His presidency, for the most part, was “no foul, not harm.”

It always seemed to me that Clinton didn’t like being president—he didn’t respect the presidency. That’s to say, he liked the privileges and perks of the presidency more than the power of the presidency. That’s not to says that Clinton was anti-American. He was simply pro-Clinton. This is not exactly true of Barack Obama. I think Obama likes being president and the power it brings. But he doesn’t respect the presidency—it’s history and traditions. Does this make him anti-American? Not necessarily. Other presidents haven’t always respected the traditions and history of the American presidency. But with Obama we have something hitherto unknown in the presidency—a president who is post-American.

Dinesh D’Souza, in The Roots of Obama’s Rage, posited the theory that what motivates Obama is the anti-colonialism of his Marxist father. The desire to throw off European-style governing models, like the constitutional republicanism of the United States (at least at its founding), in favor of a more centralist and controlling model like Communism is, according to D’Souza, at the root of Obama’s governing philosophy. Mark Levin fundamentally agrees with D’Souza when Levin calls the President a Marxist. I think there is much truth in the D’Souza/Levin anti-colonialist/Marxist language. But these are stark sentiments for one who seems so subtle and smooth. We think of Marxists as militant—revolutionary. And while it’s true that Obama desires to be a revolutionary figure—a transformative president, as he’s styled himself—he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a revolutionary. Therefore, I think Mark Steyn’s treatment of Obama as a post-American president comes closer to describing Obama’s motivation than anything else. Steyn wrote in After America: Get Ready for Armageddon:

Many Americans quickly began to pick up the strange vibe that for Barack Obama governing America was “an interesting sociological experiment.” . . . He would doubtless agree that the United States is “the place on earth that, if [he] needed one, [he] would call home.” But he doesn’t, not really: it’s hard to imagine Obama wandering along to watch a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade until the job required him to. That’s not to say he’s un-American or anti-American, but merely that he’s beyond all that. Way beyond. He is, as John Bolton says, post-American. In his own book on the president, Dinesh D’Souza argues that Obama is defined by his father’s anti-colonialism. Speaking as an old-school imperialist, I find him exactly the opposite: in his attitude to America, Obama comes across as a snooty viceregal grandee passing through some tedious colonial outpost. He’s the first president to give off the pronounced whiff that he’s condescending to the job—that it’s really too small for him and he’s just killing time until something more commensurate with his stature comes along. When he lectures America on the Ground Zero mosque or immigration, he does not speak to his people as one of them. When he addresses the monde, he speaks as a citoyen du for whom the United States has no greater or lesser purchase on him than Papua or Peru. There is an absence of feeling for America—as in his offhand remark to Bob Woodward that the United States can “absorb” another 9/11. During the long Northern Irish “Troubles,” cynical British officials used to talk off-the-record about holding casualties down to “an acceptable level of violence,” but it’s eerie to hear the head of state take the same view—and about a far higher number of fatalities. As the 3,000 families who had a huge gaping hole blown in their lives whether another 9/11 is something you want to “absorb” rather than prevent.

But why be surprised at the thin line between Obama’s cool and his coldness? Jeremiah Wright (his race-baiting pastor), Van Jones (his Communist “green jobs” czar), William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn (his hippie-terrorist patrons) are not exactly stirred by love of country, either. . . .

With hindsight, this is what drove both the birthers and the countering cries of racism. Detractors and supporters alike were trying to explain something that was at first vaguely palpable and then became embarrassingly obvious: it’s not so much that he’s foreign to America, but that America is foreign to him. Outside the cloisters of Hyde Park and a few other enclaves, he doesn’t seem to get America. Not because he was born in Kenya or wherever, but because he’s the first president to be marinated his entire life in a post-modern, post-American cultural relativism. What’s worrying about Obama is not that he’s weird but that he’s so typical of much of the [elite]; in that sense, his post-Americanness is all too American. [1]

Obama told us he was beyond the confines of country when he was running for the presidency in 2008. Of course he didn’t use these words, but every indication, for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, pointed to the fact nonetheless. Simple things, that some took as too trivial to worry over, told us that America’s hold on Obama was tenuous at best. For the longest time he refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Wearing one doesn’t make you a patriot any more than failing to wear one makes you a traitor. However, when Obama was asked why he didn’t wear the pin he became defensive and brought up the patriotism argument—that other’s shouldn’t question his patriotism and that a piece of jewelry on one’s suit does not a patriot make. During times of the National Anthem he often failed to place his right hand over his heart. But the key to unlocking Obama’s post-Americanism came in Germany when he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin:

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as candidate for President, but as a citizen—a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world. . . .

Later he said,

Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more—not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity. [2]

What does it mean to be a citizen of the world—to be a global citizen? Isn’t that just another way of saying that you have no affection for a particular place and people . . . that you are beyond parochial patriotism . . . that you are post-American? And if it doesn’t then I don’t know what it means.

[1] Mark Steyn, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2011), 146–48.

[2] Barack Obama, remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany, July 24, 2008, http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/24/obama.words/ (accessed March 26, 2012).

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6 Responses to America’s Post-American President

  1. [...] Drudge links a flashback to Obama calling their deaths “bumps in the road,” and it also brings to mind his equally cold-hearted phrase that America could “absorb” another 9/11-sized attack. [...]

  2. Rich K says:

    Um, “King of the World” strike a bell?

  3. John Scotus says:

    Someone like Mother Teresa can and should be a citizen of the world. However, as an employee of the American people, the President cannot afford such a luxury–he answers not to the world, but to the American people, serving their interests. In so many ways, Obama’s “obligation” to the world is in conflict with his responsibilities as president, to our detriment.

    • John,

      I’m not sure what it means to be a “citizen of the world” since the root of citizenship is restricted to one who give allegiance to and works for the good of the city — a local civilization with borders and government. However, your point is well taken. Someone like Mother Teresa — a non-political figure — is better suited to fill the role of citizen of the world, if such exists. But President Obama cannot fill this role, if for nothing else because he is not President of the World … though I’m sure he’d run for that office if one existed.

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