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Narcissistic Delusion

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

President Obama and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq at Arlington National Cemetery, December 12

[Doug Mills, NYT]

One of the most disturbing features of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is his constant emphasis on the importance of American exceptionalism, with concomitant dishonest attacks on Obama for his failure to recognize this exceptionalism and his “apologizing” abroad for our behavior. Dishonest? See, for instance, Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post article earlier this month, in which we learn:

Romney likes to say that President Obama apologized overseas for the United States. He even titled his campaign book “No Apology.”

Even more, Romney suggests, Obama does not believe in American strength and greatness. The assertion feeds into a subterranean narrative that Obama, with his exotic, mixed-race background, is not really American in the first place.

[snip]

In a lengthy article on the Fact Checker blog, we tracked down every statement Obama uttered that partisans claim was an apology, and concluded that each one had been misquoted or taken out of context.

But I’m not here to complain about Romney’s dishonesty. If I started, how would I stop? Instead, I wish to complain about Obama’s own emphasis on American exceptionalism. The irony of Romney’s distorted attacks is that Obama stands side by side with him in declaring how special we are, and I find this disturbing in its own right.

Yes, a mixed message here. I don’t like Romney’s attacks on Obama for not appreciating America’s uniqueness. And I don’t like Obama’s claims of America’s uniqueness. But that’s the case, and the larger underlying issue is the impoverishment of moral and political discourse in this country, especially in the context of war.

Which brings me to Jim Rigby’s powerful Christmas Day piece at Truthout on Obama and the Iraq War. Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. Rather than exceptionalism, he speaks of “narcissistic delusion.” Below is the relevant passage. Please do take the time to read his article in its entirety.

What have we learned as a result of the war? That was answered by Obama’s words to the returning troops:

Because of you – because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met – Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are.

Looking back at my earlier Christmas article, I feel pain, not pride, at what the president said. His speech to returning troops could have been taken from any leader, of any nation, from any period of history, simply by changing the names and places. It is the kind of speech every leader has given since the emperors: brave and noble words, written in someone else’s blood. This president, who ran, in part, against this war, has come to repeat the party line. This president, who once spoke of respect for all people of the world, has now deported more immigrants than Bush.

Hearing another speech expressing our nation’s narcissistic delusion made me physically ill. I could not help but think of the bloody wake such rhetoric leaves behind when put into action. The fact that we are leaving Iraq at this point says nothing about the purity of our initial motives. Even bank robbers don’t stay around after the crime has been committed. I appreciate trying to make our young soldiers not feel like they were pawns in someone else’s parlor game, but for the sake of future generations, we must painfully remember and affirm that that is exactly what happened.

We, from the United States, are not like the people in our nativity scenes. We are like the Romans looming ominously in the background of the story. Christmas is about the little people of the world who find joy and meaning while living under someone else’s boot. We from the United States can only celebrate Christmas by ending our cultural narcissism, renouncing empire, and making room for the poor and the weak of the world, such as Joseph and Mary.

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