by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
In this great age of atonement, in a mere two or three days the world has been reminded that (1) the U.S. has been arrogant; (2) dismissive and derisive to Europe; (3) was a slave-owning society; (4) practiced genocide against native Americans; (5) did not let blacks vote; (6) was the only nation to have used nuclear weapons; (7) embraced torture; (8) alienated the world under Bush, and on and on. The subtext has been that those of a different race, of a different era, or under a different president have done terrible things, which I, from my own moral Olympus, must now apologize for.
A modest suggestion: from now on, every president who wishes to go abroad and review all his lesser citizens’ collective past and present sins, with accompanying apologies — to applause from foreigners — must first, in the spirit of New Testament atonement, review his own regrettable transgressions. It would go something like this:
“Today we witness a global financial meltdown — a result of a dangerous nexus between lax politicians and unethical high finance. I know this well, and wish to apologize for taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the now-bankrupt AIG financial firm, which sought to escape proper regulation by offering campaign contributions to politicians like myself, who unilaterally renounced the three-decade tradition of public campaign finance.”
“Smoking is a great plague on the world, killing millions each year and giving great profits to modern merchants of death. I, President Obama, as a long smoker, know that temptation well and the global health problems entailed with tobacco addiction. We all also must avoid the perils of drug usage, a plague on all our nations. I can attest that as a youth I used cocaine, not only endangering my health, but doing my small part to send profits back to drug cartels abroad that cause so much death and destruction.”
“Racism is an insidious pathology that reaches even into the pulpit; it is a human sin that no one race has a monopoly on. I am well aware of the havoc it causes the innocent — after failing to say “No! Stop!” to my own Rev. Wright as he caricatured in my church whites, Jews, Italians, and almost anyone else who does not look like himself and our congregation. Likewise, class prejudice and stereotyping are often at the heart of much of the world’s problems; I too have engaged in such hurtful condemnations when just recently I labeled, in blanket fashion, the working class of rural Pennsylvania as xenophobes, fundamentalists, and nativists.”
“We need to adopt a new attitude toward the mentally and physically challenged; too often we flippantly make fun of the disabled, as I did, when I unthinkingly made a joke in front of a national television audience at the expense of those who participate in the Special Olympics.”
“Now turning to my country’s own regrettable past, let me begin with an apology for its . . .”
Rules of Usage
President Obama reminded his European audience that just because he’s not Bush, of non-traditional ancestry, and named “Barack Hussein Obama,” the war on terror won’t just go away (you think?).
All of which brings up interesting rules of usage with the name “Hussein”:
1) It is forbidden at home; any American who employs the tripartite presidential name does so only to fan religious, racial, or ethnic prejudice.
2) It is encouraged abroad both in Europe and the Middle East (cf. the al-Arabiya interview) both to establish our president’s multicultural fides and sensitivity to Muslims, and to distance himself from our past illiberal foreign policy and attitudes.
3) Rule #2 only applies to the president himself. Even liberal journalists abroad are not allowed to say “Hussein” even in the most progressive of contexts.
In defense of President Obama, he is only doing what he was supposed to do; he was elected in part because of the collective ‘tingle’ he provided to millions of Americans who desperately wished to be liked again in the manner that is happening now in Europe (even if superficially and through granting every wish Europe can conjure up), and wanted to be relieved at relatively inexpensive cost of the burden of guilt. To the extent that Obama does not remind us of his non-traditional, anti-Bush, multicultural identity, he is not fulfilling his campaign pact.
Mark Steyn wondered why the silence about the Korean rocket. Other than a canny Clintonian sense that weekend news is dead news, I think it may be because we know the presidential response: Just as spending and borrowing became fiscal responsibility, “stimulus,” and halving the new deficit; just as serially trashing Bush became “preferring to look forward rather than backward,” so too watching the Koreans showcase their new intercontinental ballistic missile to global nuclear customers becomes a rhetorical occasion to promise a new non-nuclear world.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson