Pete Souza/White House
President Obama’s State of the Union address was disgusting.
The president began with a moving tribute to the armed forces and their accomplishments. But as he has done many times now, he celebrated martial virtues not to rally support for the military, but to cover himself in glory — he killed Osama bin Laden! — and to convince the American people that they should fall in line and march in lockstep.
He said of the military: “At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example. Think about the America within our reach.”
That is disgusting.
What Obama is saying, quite plainly, is that America would be better off if it wasn’t America any longer. He’s making the case not for American exceptionalism, but for Spartan exceptionalism.
"This nation isn’t great because we work as a team with the president as our captain. America is great because America is free."
It’s far worse than anything George W. Bush, the supposed warmonger, ever said. Bush, the alleged fascist, didn’t want to militarize our free country; he tried to use our military to make militarized countries free.
Indeed, Obama is upending the very point of a military in a free society. We have a military to keep our society free. We do not have a military to teach us the best way to give up our freedom. Our warriors surrender their liberties and risk their lives to protect ours. The promise of American life for Obama is that if we all try our best and work our hardest, we can be like a military unit striving for a single goal. I’ve seen pictures of that from North Korea. No thank you, Mr. President.
Of course, Obama’s militaristic fantasizing isn’t new. Ever since William James coined the phrase “the moral equivalent of war,” liberalism has been obsessed with finding ways to mobilize civilian life with the efficiency and conformity of military life. “Martial virtues,” James wrote, “must be the enduring cement” of American society: “intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command must still remain the rock upon which states are built.” His disciple, liberal philosopher John Dewey, hoped for a social order that would force Americans to lay aside “our good-natured individualism and march in step.”
This is why Obama’s administration believes a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This is why Obama has been prattling about “Sputnik moments” and sighing over his envy of China and its rulers. This is why his spinners endeavored to translate the death of bin Laden as some sort of vindication of his domestic agenda: because he cannot lead a free people where he thinks they should go.
At the end of his address, Obama once again cast the slain bin Laden as the Vercingetorix to his Caesar. (Vercingetorix was the defeated Gaulic chieftain whom Caesar triumphantly paraded through Rome.) “All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves,” Obama rhapsodized.
The warriors on the ground “only succeeded . . . because every single member of that unit did their job. . . . More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back. So it is with America.”
“This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.”
No. Wrong. It is not so with America. This nation isn’t great because we work as a team with the president as our captain. America is great because America is free. It is great not because we put our self-interest aside, but because we have the right to pursue happiness.
I don’t blame the president for being exhausted with the mess and bother of democracy and politics, since he has proved so inadequate at coping with the demands of both. Nor do I think he truly seeks to impose martial virtues on America. But he does desperately want his opponents to shut up and march in place. And he seems to think this bilge will convince them to do so.
What I can’t forgive, however, is the way he tries to pass off his ideal of an America where everyone marches as one as a better America. It wouldn’t be America at all.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at AEI