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Reagan and Obama

Is America a city on a hill or a country in decline?

12:00 AM, Oct 7, 2009 • By JEAN KAUFMAN
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A step, yes; but only the first in a lengthy process. The second step would be confession. And there were many other sins as well for which America must begin to atone. That is why Obama proceeded to go on a worldwide tour early in his presidency, apologizing to nation after nation for America's manifold sins of hubris and exceptionalism, militarism and imperialism, greed and excess. These were the many ways in which Obama and his fellow leftists have reframed American exceptionalism as American tyranny.

If Obama has anything to say about it, there will be further steps in America's journey of penance and redemption through the mechanism of his presidency. The redistribution of income is only fair and moral, since taxing the rich will punish them for their greed; and cap and trade will be the penalty for having used more than our fair share of resources. Foreign policy is a major mechanism by which this country will be made level with other countries--just one nation among the rest, stripped of much of its power and its weaponry.

Seen in this light, Michelle Obama's most well-known utterances during the campaign--about how Americans are "just downright mean," that Obama's nomination marked the first time in her adult life that she's been really proud of her country, and that her husband has come to help Americans heal their broken souls--fit perfectly into this picture. She--and her husband--see Americans in precisely the terms Reagan explicitly rejected: mean rather than kindly, denizens of a sick society in need of spiritual and moral healing, with the Obamas showing the way to redemption.

Jennifer Rubin notes that Mitt Romney, speaking at a recent Foreign Policy Initiative conference, indicated "that Obama shares the view of certain 'foreign-policy circles' that American is 'in decline' and that it is his job to manage America's decline."

But that doesn't quite capture the flavor of Obama's mission. Obama is not merely observing a downward trend and trying to shepherd this nation through the process. He believes such a downward direction is the morally proper one for America and Americans, the only way we can be forgiven our manifold sins and emerge purified through humility and sacrifice.

Obama also believes that he is the special instrument by which the nation can accomplish this transformation. That, more than any specific policy on any specific issue, is the goal of Obama's presidency: the shriving and humbling of America. That is what Obama means by "fundamental change."

Jean Kaufman is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.