Is Barack Obama an American?
No, I have not lost my mind. I have not become a “birther”. President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 (incidentally the same year I was born in New York City), is a citizen of these United States and is a legitimate President. What I want to address here goes beyond the facts of his birth. I want to get an angle on the constant “he’s not one of us” theme that we hear. I want to get beyond the obvious suspicions of racism and go a bit deeper, or since the argument is fairly obvious, perhaps not that deep. You be the judge.
On Sean Hannity’s Fox News broadcast former Vice President Dick Cheney made the usual ass of himself but one of the things he said can be examined more closely.
Cheney says, “this is a guy who … does not share that view of American exceptionalism that most of us believe in.” Let’s put aside the disrespect inherent in “this is a guy” (he’s your damn President DICK), and look at the statement. Obama does not believe that America is exceptional. One could look, as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews did, at Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 where he says that his story could only happen in America, and see that Obama thinks our country is special. But does he see this in an academic, almost clinical way? Does he feel it viscerally?
Let’s rewind a few months to see Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz’s assessment:
The president has a problem. For, despite a great election victory, Mr. Obama, it becomes ever clearer, knows little about Americans. He knows the crowds—he is at home with those. He is a stranger to the country’s heart and character.
He seems unable to grasp what runs counter to its nature. That Americans don’t take well, for instance, to bullying, especially of the moralizing kind, implicit in those speeches on health care for everybody. Neither do they wish to be taken where they don’t know they want to go and being told it’s good for them.
Dorothy says Obama is a “stranger to the country’s heart and character.” A similar perception to that of the former Vice President. Is Obama simply a victim of this assessment or has he contributed to it in some way?
I think there is an intuitive answer that demonstrates Obama’s contribution to this perception. From the time he was born until he graduated from high school, Barack Obama lived outside the mainland United States. I would argue that Hawaii, just barely a state in 1961, was hardly representative of the “American experience” and of course, Obama spent several years in Jakarta, Indonesia. Twenty years after his graduation from an exclusive Hawaiian high school, he wrote in their bulletin, “The opportunity that Hawaii offered — to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect — became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”  I think we could safely argue that although mostly raised by his Kansas bred grandparents, Barack Obama got anything but a typical mid-west white bread view of America.
I believe that having not lived in the mainland United States until college, that Obama had an objective view of our country atypical of most of our other Presidents. In Obama’s world view, America might be special, but not necessarily “better” than other civilized countries. America might be a land of virtue and ideals but not the be-all end-all barometer of morality. On the contrary, America could be capable of doing the wrong thing. America could be imperfect. America could need improvement.
I believe that Obama’s objective view of our country, much from the perspective of an outsider (even more outside than the average black man), makes his love for our country appear less visceral. America likes its Presidents to reek of Americana, whether it’s Abe Lincoln splitting logs or Eisenhower or Kennedy bravely defending their country in war. Obama comes to us with a different story. A story of an outsider who wants to fix the problems that the insiders may be too blind to see. Such outsiders do not usually engender affection from the insiders.
Is Barack Obama an American? Well, yes he is but he is a different kind of American. He is an American who believes you can be special and still be equal to your peers, showing them respect and apologizing when you’ve done them wrong. America is a proud country, proud to a fault. Humility, on an international scale runs, as Ms. Rabinowitz puts it “counter to its nature.” Hence she and Dick Cheney will probably never understand what a good American Barack Obama really is.