Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Barack Obama, American Jew

The Iowa Tea Party compares Obama to Hitler, but in truth it sees Obama as Hitler saw Jews: a racially impure outsider who by conspiracy, over-learnedness, and economic exploitation seeks to destroy America.

Hence, this billboard's irony: by comparing Obama to Hitler, the Tea Party is actually behaving like Hitler, summoning us to the defense of our nation against the insidious outsider insurrectionist, Obama.

It must be said that Obama bears some blame for this. During his campaign he sometimes ended his speeches by saying, "Let's go change the world." Such language thrilled many of my fellow citizens, especially at the end of the Bush catastrophe. The world, it seemed, needed changing. But after the 20th century, reasonable men and women everywhere have great reason to be terrified of talk of change, not least because of Hitler and Lenin. You tell a decent, hardworking man like my stepfather that you're going to change the world, and he's going to reach for his gun. The status quo has been good to him. He's seen family, friends, and neighbors die to maintain it. He's not interested in an unknown, oddly named, odd-looking man from a Chicago university rising to power by calling for change.

Thankfully—and to the great outrage of many of those who voted for him—Obama (unlike Bush) has not tried to change the world. Campaign hyperbole aside, Obama knows that revolution is rarely more than a euphemism for murder, terror, and suicide.

Instead, Obama has tried to restore America to an earlier idea of itself. Healthcare reform was not a transformation of our society but an attempt to return us to what we used to be: New Deal America, Marshall Plan America, "ask not" America. This country, Obama argued, is not a place where we allow our sick to die because they are poor or unlucky. In America, he said, we take care of each other.

Of course he's wrong: America IS a place where we allow our sick to die if they are poor or unlucky. But he might be right that it didn't used to be, and he's certainly right that it shouldn't be.

In this regard Obama is the most conservative president of my lifetime, attempting to return us to our past, even if it's a past that never fully existed. Obama wants us to be what we should have been—what, I think he believes, the Bush aberration aside, we actually are.

It's not unreasonable to disagree with that ambition. But to compare Obama to Hitler and Lenin misunderstands both who he is and what he hopes to achieve. There are no Jews in Obama's worldview. As he sees it, we are all merely fellow Americans. He asks us to honor that good fortune by remembering our pre-"greed is good," pre-terrified selves.

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