I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart. My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance. Let me explain.
The role of an American president is unique. It is not simply that he or she is vested with the executive power of just any national government. Rather, the president heads the government of the one country with an unequaled record of promoting and protecting human freedom—and the only country in the world that is in a position to continue doing so if properly led.
Our leaders’ best efforts have combined intelligence, compassion, strength and perhaps most notably a strong sense of optimism. Leading this country well means being able to capture the unlimited possibilities before us. Those possibilities exist because we have political and economic freedom that unleashes the potential in each of us. American values, worn with pride, give our nation a unique moral authority that can help achieve foreign-policy and security goals while fostering the consensus necessary to address thorny domestic issues.
Irrespective of what a president may think or feel, his inability or disinclination to emphasize what is right with America can hamstring our success as a nation. This is particularly true when a president is seen, as President Obama is, as criticizing his country more than other presidents have done, regardless of their political affiliation. Furthermore, this president sometimes seems to have a difficult time in expressing adequate support for important allies, particularly Israel, Ukraine and Jordan. We can all agree that the Islamic State militants and other radical Islamists—including the regime in Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world—threaten our safety and security. Any reluctance to hold up America and its ideals in contrast to the nation’s enemies weakens our message. Any reluctance to define accurately the beliefs of our enemies helps them camouflage themselves and confuses our military and intelligence efforts.
Presidents John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all possessed the ability to walk a fine line by placing any constructive criticisms regarding the ways the country might improve in the context of their unbending belief in American exceptionalism. Those presidents acknowledged America’s flaws, but always led with a fundamental belief in the country’s greatness and the example we set for the world. When President Reagan called America a shining city upon a hill, it burnished our image, rallied our allies and helped ultimately to defeat the Soviet empire.
Obviously, I cannot read President Obama’s mind or heart, and to the extent that my words suggested otherwise, it was not my intention. When asked last week whether I thought the president was a patriot, I said I did, and would repeat that. I bear him no ill will, and in fact think that his personal journey is inspiring and a testament to much of what makes this country great.
I hope and pray that President Obama can rise to the occasion and underscore America’s greatness as our history and values merit. If he does so, I will be the first to applaud him. But I can only be disheartened when I hear him claim, as he did last August, that our response to 9/11 betrayed the ideals of this country. When he interjected that “we tortured some folks,” he undermined those who managed successfully to protect us from further attack.
And to say, as the president has, that American exceptionalism is no more exceptional than the exceptionalism of any other country in the world, does not suggest a becoming and endearing modesty, but rather a stark lack of moral clarity.
This time Rudy is 100% correct, I just wish he didn’t wait a few news cycles to explain himself.