Perhaps the largest chasm in American politics is the gap between President Obama’s beliefs and the beliefs his far-right critics ascribe to him.
For six years, Republicans have levied all kinds of creative attacks against the president, but among the most persistent is the one that questions Obama’s love of country. The attack on the president’s patriotism has been unrelenting – he rejects “American exceptionalism,” conservatives insist. He “doesn’t believe that America is a force for good in the world,” GOP lawmakers proclaim. Obama sees the United States as “just another country,” Republicans declare.
I wonder, though, whether the right paid any attention to the president’s forceful remarks yesterday, delivered in front of medical professionals who’ve helped combat Ebola.
“[W]hen disease or disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the world calls us. And the reason they call us is because of the men and women like the ones who are here today. They respond with skill and professionalism and courage and dedication. And it’s because of the determination and skill and dedication and patriotism of folks like this that I’m confident we will contain and ultimately snuff out this outbreak of Ebola – because that’s what we do.“A lot of people talk about American exceptionalism. I’m a firm believer in American exceptionalism. You know why I am? It’s because of folks like this. It’s because we don’t run and hide when there’s a problem. Because we don’t react to our fears, but instead, we respond with commonsense and skill and courage. That’s the best of our history – not fear, not hysteria, not misinformation. We react clearly and firmly, even with others are losing their heads. That’s part of the reason why we’re effective. That’s part of the reason why people look to us.”
Obama’s remarks, delivered without a teleprompter and largely without notes, was practically a celebration of the United States taking the global lead. After explicitly touting his support for “American exceptionalism” – twice – the president said recent progress against Ebola is the direct result of “American leadership.”
“I know that with all the headlines and all the news, that people are scared. I know that Ebola has concerned them. But the reason I’m so proud of this country is because when there are times where we need to step up and do the right thing, we do the right thing. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.“No other nation is doing as much to help in West Africa as the United States of America. When I hear people talking about American leadership, and then are promoting policies that would avoid leadership, and have us running in the opposite direction and hiding under the covers, it makes me a little frustrated. We’re at our best when we are standing up and taking responsibility, even when it requires us making sacrifices – especially when it requires us making sacrifices.”
For all the lazy “why won’t Obama lead?” cliches from predictable Beltway pundits, Obama has stepped up in a big way in the face of a genuine threat. He’s not exploiting public fears the way some politicians are, and he’s not pushing garbage science to advance a misguided agenda. Rather, the president is showing grace under fire, keeping his head, and appealing to the public’s better angels in a mature and responsible way.
There’s a difference between people who talk about leadership and those who actually lead. That was clearly on display yesterday afternoon at the White House.
“America has never been defined by fear,” Obama added. “We are defined by courage and passion and hope and selflessness and sacrifice and a willingness to take on challenges when others can’t and others will not.”
Sure, Republicans, tell me again about your belief that the president refuses to lead and shrinks in a crisis.