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Obama surrenders JFK’s allegiance to America’s moral identity

As he refuses to defend America's true frontier

In his Inaugural Address President Kennedy spoke of the burdens, costs and sacrifices Americans are determined to bear in order to prevent “the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed.”  As he accurately proclaims in that address (“…the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…”), Kennedy’s election to be the head of America’s body politic marked the transition from the generation that mainly represented the American people in the counsels and command of the war efforts that orchestrated Allied victories during SmallLogoLTLWWII and its aftermath; to the generation that mostly constituted the cutting edge of the chisel in the physical combats that strenuously carved those victories in and from the living flesh and blood of the nation’s warriors.

When President Kennedy spoke of the sacrifices liberty requires, he surely touched the hearts of his fellow Americans and millions of others around the world who had shared in the battles against despotism and dictatorship.  For those people, willing to strive in vindication of humanity’s God-endowed capacity for rightful freedom, he quite literally struck the “mystic chords of memory” that Abraham Lincoln spoke of at the end of his First Inaugural Address, “…stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone….”   He promised to confirm and extend America’s record of proven dedication to the work of building a society of nations determined to amend the twin tragedies of tyranny and war with the healing arts of a peaceful revolution on behalf of humanity’s spiritual, moral, and material hope.

We have every reason to know that the promise he made, on the nation’s behalf, was not simply in vain.  In the years of our well-doing, nations have been liberated from tyranny and new nations delivered into the world, from the confining womb of colonialist domination.  Oppressive empires, old and new, have given way to outward forms of government that may offer the opportunity of responsible self-government to peoples for whom the very idea of liberty once had little or no meaning.  For all its sometimes crippling faults, a framework of international cooperation has emerged, along with some semblance of recognition that there are norms of decent behavior that ought conscientiously to bind sovereign nations from wrongdoing, even as they bind the freedom of individuals from crime and mayhem.

When Kennedy spoke, these fruits of our well-doing existed mainly in hope, which had only the bare outline of some concrete foundation.  The incessant hostility that defines the state of war stubbornly persisted, corrosively eating away at that foundation.  But inspired, as humans can be by their first success, we also persisted.  And like and a youthful athlete’s body, disciplined by the resolve to meet the challenges of competition, we grew stronger, so strong, in fact, that we seemed destined to prevail.  Not in the sense that we ‘defeated’ our enemies, but in the sense of drawing them into the fabric of our common hope, so that in the process of displaying our common humanity, we might be distracted from enmity as willing participants in friendly relations, if not yet self-consciously as friends.

Sometimes, as they stand on the brink of something they have long strived to achieve, people give in to the temptation to mistake as their goal the great success and power they have attained in striving to get there. They so lose themselves in the enjoyment of the prospect of success (or else, are so intimidated by it) that it causes them to falter in the still greater efforts actually required to achieve it.  In that moment, like a tennis player serving for the match, they double fault.  They can’t seem to find the ball with their racket, or the lines with the ball.  The passing shot goes long, the winning volley arcs into the net, inaugurating a comeback surge that is the stuff of legends, for the opposing side.

We must know where we are, and whither we are tending, Lincoln said.  But to know that, we must never forget who we are and why, on that account, we are determined actually to arrive at our destination.  As a people we Americans are in the throes of what may be a fatal existential crisis.  It arises from the fact that we are letting go of the conceptual meaning that informs, and therefore shapes and substantiates, our existence as a people.  We have become, to ourselves, as the words of a song are to a performer unfamiliar with the language in which they are written.  The words come, but our performance does not do them justice.

This describes the present crisis of our politics, our Constitution and our government in general.  But it is especially evident, in our current embarrassment in foreign affairs and international relations.  Americans are more and more frustrated, dismayed, aggrieved, angered, and shamed by the spectacle of our collapsing borders, emboldened enemies, and beleaguered friends.  In the past, our sense of right and wrong moved us toward what became our greatest achievements on the world stage. But now it burdens us with the sense that we are no longer a people with the character or good will for such achievements.

The striking thing about the character of the folks who met the challenge of our best achievements was their capacity for unheroic toil and unheralded sacrifice.  It was, to be sure, now and then relieved by the ordinary joys and satisfactions of decent family life (though certainly not always). But it went consistently unrewarded by any of the gay and careless self-indulgences we now vest with the name of “rights”,  pretending that they are the very essence of our freedom.  Sneer if you like at the “prudish” self-discipline that made a familial virtue of natural necessity, but it produced characters capable of enduring the toil and sacrifice which implement the conviction, inspired by good faith, that the will to do and defend what is right is its own reward.

In the era of Barack Obama’s occupation of the White House, we are retreating into a stupor of hedonistic, self-regarding indifference to our God endowed humanity.  No occupant of the White House has spoken more self-righteously than Obama about compassionate, humanitarian causes and goals. His words gleam with all the rainbow colors of misty-eyed humanitarianism.  Yet no President has more consistently discarded the rigorous priorities, policies, and conscientious choices required to turn pretty, self-righteous words into actions consistent with God-endowed right.

The headline of WND’s story about Obama’s feckless response to the ongoing and prospective persecutions and atrocities being perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) highlights Obama’s failure to act.  But our thinking so far points to a deeper failure, which is his withdrawal of allegiance from American ideas and moral principles. At all the critical turning points of our history, this allegiance has caused Americans to confirm, by their actions, the special understanding that informs our moral identity as a nation.

As John F. Kennedy put it so well, this special understanding derives from  “knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  This is the knowledge that defines the true frontier of America’s existence as a nation. The consequences of Obama’s willful failure to sustain our defense of that frontier portends a tragic ending for America’s liberty.   But it threatens as well the hope for decent freedom being pursued by other nations and peoples in our world who are determined, as we have been, to stand fast for rightful liberty. They have, until now, been are our natural allies and friends.  They are fast becoming the lamentable victims of our self-willed decline.

I began to ponder this consequence in the WND column published last Friday, and posted here at LTL as the fourth installment of this series. In the fifth installment, coming later this week, I will further discuss its particulars, including especially Obama’s ominous desertion of America’s partnership with Israel.


Series NavigationThanks to Obama, America forgets itselfWhat Obama’s Anti-Americanism has wrought
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