Claudia Rossett’s “The Bear Scare” analyzes Obama’s rather weak grasp of history on display in Moscow as it was in Cairo. But it is not just the confused focus, the generalizations at odds with history. It is also an attitude. She speaks of the real blood and treasure with which we have defended freedom; more importantly, “Americans kept brilliantly alive a philosophy of democratic government and free markets, which offered a beacon to oppressed people of the world, and exported both ideas and inventions that have vastly enriched mankind.” Were Russians surprised a U.S. President interpreted their history as he did?
In Obama’s version of history, Soviet communism (which he referred to not by name but as “old political and economic restrictions”) came to an end through some sort of brotherly mass movement: “The change did not come from any one nation,” he told an audience of Russian students. “The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.”
I assume he sees little wrong with “new political and economic restrictions” as part of the hope and change he projects in our future. It is understandable he would prefer not to see a disastrous economic system as reason for the fall, since it seems to be that system he intends to graft on ours. Nor would it be helpful to consider Reagan’s approach as cause, since not only is he a Republican but clearly Obama intends to abandon that race. So he is left with the weakness that always accompanies an unwillingness to speak the truth.
A century ago we might have taken solace in the totalitarian’s hypocrisy, seeing it as compliment to virtuous democracy. However, Rosett has seen enough of its consequences:
The legitimacy of genuine democracy is hijacked via concepts such as “sovereign democracy” in Russia, “people’s democracy” in China and “religious democracy” in Iran–all homes to state-controlled mass media, especially via the outlet of television. This report notes that the notion of democracy, in this murky landscape, becomes “a semantic shell for each authoritarian ruler to fill as he pleases.” Is this what America now proposes to converge and collaborate with?
Of course, when a leader once elected installs himself for life or when the vote is determined not by the count but the counter, “The Vote”, too, becomes a “semantic shell.”
Categorizing this post, “Anti-Americanism” seemed right. But, can a president himself be Anti-American? What do we mean by America? I’m sentimental, perhaps, but feel one defining characteristic, in Rosett’s words, is as a “bulwark of freedom.” Our history isn’t perfect – we are fallible – but its steady goal has been not only to free ourselves but others as well.