Post-Americans, Left and Right

by Mark Krikorian

Kevin is self-evidently correct in endorsing Giuliani’s assertion that President Obama doesn’t love America. But that is likely to be misunderstood by lefties as a claim that Obama is anti-American, which is not correct. Instead, he is our first post-American president. A post-American may like his country just fine, but that feeling is akin to the attitude one might have for a suburb you might live in — it’s a nice enough place, but if you got a better job or found a more suitable house, you’d leave without too much anguish. Love of country, on the other hand, is an emotion, and post-Americans (and post-nationals in general) simply do not experience that emotion. Does anyone think Herman Van Rompuy, for instance, has an emotional, patriotic attachment to Belgium, or even Flanders?

But if Barack Obama is our first post-American president, Jeb Bush wants to be the second.

David Frum had an insightful piece at The Atlantic a couple weeks back on the parallels between Obama and Jeb, and their shared post-Americanism is at the center of this similarity. Frum writes:

On the issues, Jeb Bush and Barack Obama obviously intensely disagree. But politicians are more than walking issue clusters. Two combat veterans, two children of immigrants, two alumni of Goldman Sachs may share more—despite their disagreements on the issues—than they share with people of different backgrounds who agree with them on everything. And in this way, Jeb Bush and Barack Obama may likewise express a commonality more important than their differences over energy policy, taxes, or abortion.

Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being “between two worlds”: Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.

Jeb’s dissatisfaction with America, and desire to change it to be more to his liking, is a theme he returns to often. Jeb’s enthusiasm for immigration (“the public-policy issue he cares about by far the most,” as Frum puts it) is “not only a positive judgment on the immigrants themselves,” Frum notes, but “it is also a negative judgment on native-born Americans.” Some examples:

  • “They’re more entrepreneurial, they set up more business, they buy more homes, they’re more family-oriented, they work in jobs that in many cases are jobs that have gone unfilled” (at 39:40)
  • “I think Detroit would do real well if we started repopulating it with young, aspirational people.” (45:20)
  • “We have people that mope around thinking ‘my life is bad, my children will not have the same opportunities that I had.’ What a horrible notion in America, the most optimistic of places, and I think an economically driven immigration plan . . . would lift our spirits up dramatically.” (19:25)
  • “The one way that we can rebuild the demographic pyramid is to fix a broken immigration system. . . . If we do this, we will rebuild our country in a way that will allow us to grow. If we don’t do it, we will be in decline, because the productivity of this country is dependent on young people that are equipped to be able to work hard….Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans over the last 20 years. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families and they have more intact families.” (12:25)

The truth or falsity of these claims is almost beside the point, because Jeb’s preference for immigrants over Americans is based on emotion, not reason. 

Despite what some might say, the problem here is not that Jeb’s wife is from Mexico, their kids grew up speaking Spanish, and they live in a Latin American cultural enclave in the U.S. — it’s that he wants to use government policy to “fix” America by making it more like Miami. If Jeb had so little affection for and grounding in his own heritage that he wanted to assimilate into a Latin-American milieu, that’s a perfectly legitimate choice; I know a number of non-Armenians who’ve basically chosen to assimilate into Armenian life. But to try to impose that personal choice on the nation as a whole is beyond the pale. We don’t need another president who thinks Americans are defective and need to be fixed by the State.

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