Politics & Policy

The Adventures of Captain America

Obama’s new campaign theme casts his political opponents as unpatriotic.

Before President Obama headed off to his rented 28-acre retreat in Martha’s Vineyard, he spent a few days campaigning around the Midwest in his new million-dollar, Canadian-made campaign bus, paid for at government expense. He even unveiled what many believe will be his new reelection theme: “Country first.”

According to his new stump speech, if you oppose his agenda, then you don’t care about America as much as he does. 

#ad# “There is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now. What is needed is action on the part of Congress, a willingness to put the partisan games aside and say we’re going to do what’s right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election,” Obama explained in Cannon Falls, Minn., in an event that the White House insisted had nothing to do with campaigning.

“There is nothing that we’re facing that we can’t solve with some spirit of ‘America first,’” he added, inadvertently borrowing the slogan of 1930s isolationists and the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan.

In news that will no doubt rekindle the hopes of the unemployed, the White House says Obama has an idea for how to get even more Americans working. Of course, it will depend on that “America first” spirit, which will really separate the patriotic from the petty.

And what is his big new plan for putting country first? Well, you’ll just have to wait until September to find out. For now, his policy is Martha’s Vineyard first.

So while we have this brief lull, let’s take a moment to “compare and contrast,” as they say in tenth-grade English class.

Rick Perry, the very Texan and very new entrant into the presidential race, said the other day that Ben Bernanke wasn’t putting country first. “Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous — in my opinion.” He noted that the Fed chairman would be treated “ugly” if he visited Texas.

It was a poor choice of words for a presidential contender still finding his sea legs. You might even call it stupid. Bernanke is no traitor. His quantitative-easing policy may have been wrong, but it’s ugly and foolish to suggest he pursued it for less than honorable motives.

Nonetheless, Perry’s comment has stirred up a whole kerfuffle, with editorials castigating his incivility and muckety-mucks hieing to their fainting couches. Widely quoted economist Nouriel Roubini called Perry “criminal” for his comments. “This may be the least responsible statement in the modern history of president politics,” exclaimed Larry Summers, Obama’s former economic adviser.

Obama, meanwhile, has taken the high road. “I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn’t like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress,” he said, “and you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say.”

Fair enough.

So, I wonder, where is the criticism of Obama? His new “country first” campaign theme isn’t an off-the-cuff gaffe; it’s been vetted, tweaked, and (I suspect) focus-grouped by the White House and the Obama campaign. And he’s not simply running for president; Barack Obama is president. And he’s saying that people who disagree with him don’t care about the country. Indeed, he explains at great length that our political system is “broken” because he can’t have his way — which, don’t ya know, is the American way.

When George W. Bush was president, he once said “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” This was an explicit statement about U.S. foreign policy toward states that turn a blind eye to terrorists bent on attacking America. But Bush’s opponents, including much of Hollywood and the “objective” press, took it differently. They claimed it was a sinister vision of domestic dissent (which back then was the “highest form of patriotism,” not ersatz racism). When Karl Rove made the 2002 and 2004 elections partial referendums on the War on Terror, the New York Times editorial pages collectively got their dresses over their heads in outrage.

Obama, former presidential nominee John Kerry, and every other prominent Democrat of the last decade charged that Bush and, in 2008, John McCain inappropriately used patriotism as a political weapon.

And now, Obama does openly what he charged his enemies of doing through code words. And everyone’s arguing about Rick Perry.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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