I’ve refrained from commenting on President Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly because the speech made me angry. And most postings -- or letters, or e-mails -- written while angry are better discarded or deleted.
But this address grows more disturbing on further reading. Some major presidential speeches deserve to be remembered, quoted and celebrated. Some deserve to be forgotten. A few deserve to be remembered and criticized, because they dishonor the history of presidential rhetoric.
Obama’s rhetorical method in international contexts -- given supreme expression at the United Nations this week -- is a moral dialectic. The thesis: pre-Obama America is a nation of many flaws and failures. The antithesis: The world responds with understandable but misguided prejudice. The synthesis: Me. Me, at all costs; me, in spite of all terrors; me, however long and hard the road may be. How great a world we all should see, if only all were more like…me.
On several occasions, Obama attacked American conduct in simplistic caricatures a European diplomat might employ or applaud. He accused America of acing “unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others” -- a slander against every American ally who has made sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued that, “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy” -- which is hardly a challenge for the Obama administration, which has yet to make a priority of promoting democracy or human rights anywhere in the world.
The world, of course, has its problems, too. It has accepted “misperceptions and misinformation.” It can be guilty of a “reflexive anti-Americanism.” “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Translation: I know you adore me because I am better than America’s flawed past. But don’t just stand there loving me, do something.
I can recall no other major American speech in which the narcissism of a leader has been quite so pronounced. (continues here)