Today is Flag Day, a holiday that celebrates the adoption of our nation’s standard by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. Ironically, there is currently an e-mail circulating the Internet that contrasts a press conference held by President Obama with those of several of his predecessors, including George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The difference? The former presidents stand surrounded by big, beautiful American flags; President Obama is flag-less. Not a single Old Glory festoons his podium.
It is impossible to know if this photo is genuine. It could well be that, like so many things on the Internet, the photo has been cropped, or the event is not really a press conference. That is, however, beside the point. The picture may be false, but the message will ring true to many Americans, who have come to doubt President Obama’s patriotism. The Stars and Stripes is a powerful symbol of American pride. During his brief tenure on the public stage, President Obama has sometimes appeared to lack pride in this country – a deadly charge for a politician of any stripe.
Why do so many Americans doubt Obama’s love of country? Their concerns began during his campaign, when he promised to “fundamentally transform the U.S.” Most Americans like the country the way it is.
When elected president, Obama chose to grant his first formal interview to the Arabic Al Arabiya TV, and criticized the U.S., saying “All too often the U.S. starts by dictating…and we don’t always know the facts that are involved”, suggesting that it has been our inept Mideast policy that has caused tensions in the regions. Savvy Americans knew better.
Doubts grew when he addressed the U.N. and said that “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy” and veritably blossomed when Obama addressed a crowd in Strasbourg saying that the U.S. “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” towards its allies. As the U.K.'s Telegraph reported “his speech went further than any United States president in history in criticizing his own country’s action while standing on foreign soil.”
The apology tour did not go down well-- especially with Baby Boomers who grew up believing the U.S. were the good guys. Having had parents who served in World War II, Boomers admire the U.S. for having rescued Europe from Nazism and for helping the stricken continent get back on its feet economically.
Most Americans also credit the U.S. for providing ballast against an aggressive Soviet Union during the many decades of the Cold War. They were confused to hear Obama’s version: “The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years and because the peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.”
To many in the U.S., it was the challenging military build-up promoted by President Reagan that ultimately weakened the dysfunctional Soviet Union and hastened its demise. (Perhaps Obama should study up on the long-term effects of socialism.)
Even younger generations whose historical reference points (Vietnam and Iraq) are more complicated and possibly not so righteous were not happy to hear their president apologize to the Muslim world. Their history includes 9/11, and most blame Arab extremists, not the U.S.
President Obama has also unnerved Americans by dismissing the values that many hold dear. His remarks about people who “cling to their guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” reveal a disdain for Middle America, where indeed people embrace guns and religion, because both are part of their heritage.
When he scorns “chasing the usual brass rings” or the “ownership society”, he challenges the ambition to pursue a better life that most of us credit with our country’s energy and success. Has he never heard of Horatio Alger? All around the world people have envied the U.S. its opportunities. It is a bitter pill to be led by a president who does not believe in our exceptionalism; Obama does not.
As Obama approaches the next presidential election, in 2012, he will have to sell himself all over again to a now-skeptical country.
His lack of leadership, his repudiation of the private sector, his tendency to blame everyone imaginable for his administration’s shortcomings – all these problems are but tiny holes in the leaky bucket of his popularity. If he cannot convince voters that he shares their love of country, that bucket will be empty long before election time. He needs to sincerely wrap himself in Old Glory, and there’s no better day than Flag Day to make that commitment.
Liz Peek is a political, financial and social commentator. For more visit LizPeek.com.
Fox Forum is on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.