Obama, Patriotism and Beijing

Barack Obama’s campaign was trying hard to address to challenges to his candidacy this week. Amidst charges that he is less than patriotic, Obama gave a major speech in Independence, Missouri yesterday. And, to shore up his credentials on foreign policy, the campaign announced that Obama will be making a tour of Iraq and various European capitals this summer. The speech was fine, and the choice of venue unimpeachable. Independence was the home of Harry S. Truman and the site of Winston Churchill’s famous "Iron Curtain" speech. Truman, like Obama, was considered by some to lack the credentials for the post, although no one questioned his patriotism. Still, the speech has not received the attention nor the plaudits that Obama got for his speech on race in Philadelphia when he needed to quell controversy surrounding his pastor. Visiting Iraq is a necessity, and the swing through Europe will certainly make Obama look presidential. Motorcades with cars flying the U.S. flags, the atmospherics of state protocol, perhaps even a call upon Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, all will help voters see Obama in the role for which he is auditioning. The danger for Obama on such a trip is that he will appear even more cosmopolitan, which undercuts his efforts to appear patriotic. Many in middle America want to know that Obama thinks that our country is better than any other country, they want a bit of jingoism, and they don’t like people who are too cosmopolitan. Of course, America needs a president who is less jingoistic, after eight years of George W. Bush, but Obama might not get the chance unless he demonstrates to the voters discussed yesterday that his exotic personal story has not prevented him from being "one of us." Obama can address this concern by adding another stop to his itinerary: Beijing. The Olympics open on August 8. He should show up with his wife and kids, take in a few contests, meet informally with athletes, make the trip decidedly non-political: "The girls really want to see the gymnastics!" If a picture is worth a thousand words, two pictures would come screaming back across the airwaves. First, Obama surrounded by adoring American athletes who are in the process of channeling America’s patriotic fervor. Second, Obama and his family, sitting in the stands, waving American flags, being jingoistic when it is acceptable, even appropriate, to be a little jingoistic. The trip should be non-political. No formal meetings with Chinese leaders. No discussion of Tibet independence or human rights. No denunciations of Chinese toy manufacturers. Just bringing his kids to watch the gymnastics. When he gets back, he can weigh in on U.S. Chinese relations. Usually, candidates are ill advised to go to sporting events. People attend such events to escape the daily grind. Sport is the opposite of sobriety and seriousness. But, the Olympics are different because the team represents the nation. In America, where we are all from somewhere else, our national symbols and national pride is especially touchy because it is especially unrooted in common bloodlines. Americans get gushy when we watch the Olympics. Obama should ride that wave with a couple of days in Beijing. Michael Sean Winters
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