The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Insiders: Why would anyone think Obama doesn’t love America? Plenty of reasons.

Is it possible that a reasonable person could think President Obama doesn’t love America? Well, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has faced heavy criticism for saying just that, but Giuliani isn’t crazy. His thoughts are usually well-collected. He is a Republican leader, and his opinion matters. That said, his comments aren’t helpful in today’s election context, and attacking Obama is generally off-message for Republicans who want to win in 2016, but Giuliani has a right to say what he thinks.

I’m a sufficiently intimidated, mostly tame Republican, so I won’t say I share the mayor’s views, but the fact is that a lot of Republicans do believe that Obama doesn’t clearly and consistently demonstrate his love for America in a way that they can always relate to. The media are in full-throttle attack mode against anyone who gives pause to Giuliani’s statements. Their blaring “how dare you” harangue reveals their defensiveness. Anyway, Giuliani speaks for himself in his op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

“Love” is a subjective term, and humankind has grappled with exactly what love is since the beginning of time. So who is to say who loves whom and who loves what?

Well, first of all, in politics, image matters. It’s easy to imagine Bill Clinton and either President Bush getting teary-eyed at the proverbial Fourth of July parade, as the veterans wave and flatbeds filled with 4-H kids roll by. It’s hard to imagine Obama in a similar situation. He has a cerebral, cool and aloof style that keeps him a little distant. It also probably makes some people wonder whether he feels much when faced with traditional triggers that warm the heart and produce the classic, patriotic, emotional response one would associate with the romanticized traditional love of country. Fair enough.

But beyond generalities about style and persona, Obama’s policies, declarations and overall conduct in office make some think he is dissatisfied with America and its self-image.

From the beginning, this president’s misguided approach to foreign policy has suggested something about what he sees as America’s place in the world. It goes all the way back to the 2008 campaign, when then-Sen. Obama said he would agree to meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, including the leaders of Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. This willingness to accommodate America’s traditional enemies and at times, disregard old friends, has been a nagging and persistent pattern in the administration from when he was first elected to the present day. Most recently, the president’s gift of recognition to our traditional enemy Cuba — while getting nothing in return — and his inaction as another traditional enemy, Russia, makes a mockery of peace talks and interferes in a country that wants the United States to come to its aid just add to the idea that Obama is quick to let America’s enemies have their way.

And then there is the disastrous, continuing effort to avoid offending Islamic terrorists. Most Americans probably fear Islamic terrorist action on our soil. And just this past weekend, the Obama administration warned people about the prospect of an attack at the iconic Mall of America. Yet the president won’t even put the words “Islamic” and “terrorist” together. Somehow the president manages to leave the impression that he doesn’t want to offend those who would like nothing better than to kill us. His refusal to call them out fits with the notion that he might not see the danger or apply all necessary means to fight these terrorist groups.

Many were left flat-footed and with jaws dropped after the president’s remarks at the recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where he let the Islamic terrorists know that he is keeping their actions in context. Obama felt compelled to equate today’s Islamic terrorist butchers to the Christian Crusaders of 900 years ago. It was just another example of how the president appears willing to try to understand — if not justify — the actions of those who hate America. When the president is slow to condemn our enemies, it raises doubts about what he really thinks of their case against America.

In the meantime, the president is ignoring our loyal ally, the prime minister of Israel, and plenty of America’s most experienced foreign policy leaders in dealing with Iran — a country that has said it wants to acquire nuclear weapons to use against Israel and the United States. Obama’s evolving position on how much of a weapons infrastructure he will allow Iran to keep is frightening to anyone who fears for Israel, the United States and our other allies. It makes one wonder about the president’s commitment to ensuring that Iran does not ever have nuclear weapons.

Obama also has a famously strained relationship with the military. His own former defense secretary, Robert Gates, was particularly pointed in his revelation that he didn’t think the president liked being around members of the military. And of course, for many Republicans, the U.S. military is the most revered of all government institutions. Lack of support for the military can be viewed not only as an indication of a lack of traditional patriotism but also as a lack of commitment to America’s strength.

And then there are the numerous odd incidents that cumulatively give us a picture of a president who doesn’t really care, including the disrespectful “latte salute”; the non sequitur of removing the bust of America’s great ally Winston Churchill from the White House; his embrace of the perpetually aggrieved Rev. Al Sharpton; right down to appointing a civil rights lawyer as secretary of labor even if he tends to look for grievances instead of helping to build up traditional businesses that put bread on the table for many Americans.

All this combines to give people plausible reasons to think that Obama doesn’t exactly see America as the light in the darkness or as the world’s best hope, and he even had to be shamed into acknowledging American exceptionalism. So is it reasonable to wonder whether his heart is really in it? Is it ridiculous to think this president is biased toward seeing America’s flaws and imperfections first and that he doesn’t see America as the worthy leader of the world?

There are plenty of reasons that suggest Obama might not love America as it is or in the traditional sense. Giuliani and others have the right to say it; whether or not it is wise or useful to do so is another story.