I recall an episode during the Bush years when Vice President Dick Cheney took fire for wearing a parka and a ski cap during a solemn memorial ceremony at Auschwitz in Poland.
“The vice president,” the Washington Post complained, “was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower. Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood.” Or take in CBS News (“Cheney’s Attire Draws Ire”): “Vice President Dick Cheney’s utilitarian hooded parka and boots stood out amid the solemn formality of a ceremony commemorating the liberation of Nazi death camps, raising eyebrows among the fashion-conscious.”
Ah, those fashion-conscious folks.
So where was the media outrage when President Obama chewed gum during the D-Day ceremony in Normandy last week? It seems to have been confined to the Washington Times and the Twitterverse. E.J. Dionne was on hand to argue that it was probably Nicorette, so it’s okay—Obama is still struggling nobly to break his cigarette habit. No disrespect intended! (But really—can anyone imagine Ronald Reagan, or either Bush, chewing gum at a memorial service for our armed forces?)
I doubt this was entirely an accident or uncontrollable impulse on Obama’s part. It fits with his general contempt for—and rejection of—America’s traditions. He never does this quite openly. It is always through subtle little gestures, like bowing to foreign potentates. Occasionally he gives out more significant markers.
Remember that Lincoln’s famous formula at Gettysburg, “Four score and seven years ago. . .,” traces the nation’s origin back to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence. Yet notice that Obama, who likes to drape himself in the mantle of Lincoln, dates the country differently, which is highly revealing. In his victory speech on election night in 2008, Obama included a remark that tended to slip by almost unnoticed:
And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
If you back up 221 years, you reach 1787 rather than 1776 as Lincoln did. Why did Obama choose 221 years, instead of following Lincoln’s dating? Surely this was not a mere slip on Obama’s part. Among other things, this dating performs the neat trick of severing the Constitution from the Declaration of Independence, and suggesting the nation really begins with the Constitution. It is a subtle way of rejecting the American Founding.
The intellectual Left has always been at best ambivalent about the Declaration of Independence, but more typically hostile to it. The Left likes the “all men are created equal” part, but stumble over “all men,” because Jefferson (a slave-owner!) should have anticipated the tender sensitivities of 21st century gender studies departments and used inclusive language. But the Left really hates the idea of “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” and the doctrine of individual natural rights that flow from it. If you’re going to have a “living Constitution” that can be adapted for left-liberal purposes, it is necessary to sever it from the philosophical principles of the Declaration. (The ur-text of this argument is perhaps Franklin Roosevelt’s “Commonwealth Club Address” of 1932. Worth a close read.) You might say that Obama has “declared” himself independent from the American Founding with this one remark, the substance of which he undoubtedly picked up at Columbia, Harvard, etc. One way you “fundamentally change” America, as Obama has long professed to desire, is to reinterpret its past. Here’s to hoping some of that Nicorette gum sticks to his shoe.