My old friend (and proprietor of the precursor to this website) Josh Trevino hits the nail on the head. Reflecting on Senator Obama’s extravagant public appearance in Berlin yesterday, he writes that the speech “was very much in the rhetorical tradition of one George W. Bush. In listening to it, the recollection was not of the oft-cited JFK or Ronald Reagan, but of the current President’s Second Inaugural Address.” That would be the “end of tyranny in our world” and “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands” speech.
“The central themes,” Josh continues, “are quite nearly the same: a wholesale reversal of John Quincy Adams’s formulation of American foreign policy, which stated that America ‘goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.’”
Republican commentators have been full of snarls at Obama’s one-worldism, which he articulated through the fitting metaphor (given the location of the speech) of oppressive walls. “The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.” But these right-wing snarls ring pretty hollow, for we have heard the same drivel from Republicans for eight years and more. Hostility toward nationality; antipathy for the distinctiveness of peoples; contempt for the particularity of nations — this has been a bipartisan game for many a long year now.
And Josh is right to conclude:
We’re a long way from the United States’s former mission — you know, the one compelling it to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” America’s engagement in the world after 1945 used to be justified and justifiable on those terms, and every postwar president till now more or less grasped this. George W. Bush decisively changed that, and the question was whether his re-orientation of America’s raison d’etre was unique to him, or a lasting shift in foundations of American policy. With Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin today, we know the terrible answer.
If America is the one indispensable and universal nation, vindicator of liberty everywhere, organized for the project of throwing down all tyranny, then indeed her opposition to all walls of distinctiveness must be implacable. She is moved by what Burke called an armed doctrine; she is revolution on the march. If, however, America is to remain the well-wisher of freedom but champion only of her own, then particularity is not a stark staring contradiction of her identity, interest still guides her aspirations, and walls may be, not merely necessary but noble and just.