I love America.
Our republic is unlike any other. With my mouth, thank goodness for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In our country, you can be who you are, and dream of being anything you want to be. We have a say in who our leaders are, and what they do. And in how many countries can I spend a weekend sitting on my ass watching four straight episodes of Undercover Boss?
But this blog proves I’m also critical of my country. I think the Iraq war was a huge mistake. I believe universal health care is a right, not a privilege. I absolutely abhor the divisiveness, name-calling, and lack of real debate. And I wish the hyphenated last names fad was just that. I prayed for years Joseph Gordon-Levitt would marry Jennifer Love-Hewitt just to see if she would take the name Jennifer Love-Hewitt-Gordon-Levitt.
Please don’t tell Rudy Giuliani.
Apparently, the former mayor of New York City believes President Barack Obama doesn’t love America because he criticizes it. Giuliani said it at a private dinner event last week featuring Wisconsin governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker. He believes the President does not love you. Or me. Or him. And what’s not to love about “America’s Mayor,” right? (Thank you for that one, Oprah!) He seems so cute and cuddly. Giuliani backed up his claims by saying President Obama never talks about America’s exceptionalism like past Democratic presidents did.
The backlash towards Giuliani’s comments honestly surprised me. It’s like attacking Kim Kardasian for talking about her butt. What else does he have to talk about? Giuliani’s just taking a page out of the GOP playbook–“Paint Democratic candidate (blank) as ‘not one of us” if they are rich, went to an Ivy League school, criticizes Israel, may be non-religious, refuses to accept American exceptionalism, etc. Interchangeable with the words ‘elitist’ or ‘socialist.'” It’s red meat for those of you still pushing Obama’s Muslim, Kenyan, not born in the United States myth. Giuliani didn’t address you directly. But we all knew what he meant.
And what he did NOT mean is black. Some of you need to stop using that “dog whistle.” Yes, some Republican voters are racists. And by some, I mean those few who still deck out their Ford F-150s with a Confederate flag, camouflage and Truck Nutz. But you can’t continue to defend Muslims with the “all Muslims aren’t terrorists” card, while playing the “If you pander to racists, you are one” card. As I said in a previous blog, it’s not him. It’s us. President Obama represents a changing of the guard, if you will. He gave marijuana smoking, gay-marrying, tree-hugging, immigrant-loving, non-religious voters a voice. And the GOP hates him for THAT.
And American exceptionalism is just another weapon to attack him for that. Republicans have a long history of tying the belief of our exceptionalism to “love of country” while using criticism as proof of the lack of love. Remember the political fight over whether you support our troops if you do not support the war in Iraq? It works because we naturally respond emotionally to it. As an “exceptional” child “unfairly” criticized by his parents, I always wondered how you could criticize something or someone you claim to love. I found a way to get a “B” in my high school Composition class without having to write one of the major papers assigned to me. Instead of using my library time to research and write, I read the newspaper right in front of the teacher. Pure genius. But my parents believed I was better than that. And gave me a tongue lashing for it.
And guess what? They were right to do so. They loved me and believed I was better than that. They told me I wasn’t living up to my full potential. They wanted me to use the DNA they bestowed to me to be the best I could be, not to find ways just to slide by. As Voltaire said, and Uncle Ben reiterated to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
I believe that. And I believe the President does too. And that’s why I criticize our country. I receive the benefits of one of the best emergency health care systems in the world. But the Commonwealth Fund ranks our health care system dead last among developed countries, despite spending more money on it than anyone else. Eight of the top ten universities in the world reside in the U.S., but overall, our education systems ranks 17th. Similarly, eight of the top ten richest people call America home, causing one of the most unequal income distributions among developed countries. At least we rank #1 in incarcerated citizens.
That’s why we need to stop criticizing the criticism. We need to embrace the fact nothing is perfect, including our beloved America. We should want people to find ways to improve our systems instead of attacking them for not accepting the status quo. Let’s have a real conversation about what we do and how we do it by giving everyone a seat at the table and allowing all voices to be heard, critical or otherwise.
That’s what’s so ironic about Giuliani’s criticism. American exceptionalism begins with the right to criticize our leaders without retribution. Yet, he believes our leaders shouldn’t openly criticize the country giving him that right. No one doubts this country has done, and continues to do, exceptional deeds. But those deeds, from the Constitution to the creation of the Internet, from the end of slavery to the election of our first black president, sprung from a want for change or improvement. Our greatest leaders, inventors, capitalists, and athletes prove it to us time and again.
You can only be exceptional by believing you are not.