In India on Sunday, President Obama announced the decline of the United States as an economic power. “For most of my lifetime … the U.S. was such an enormously dominant economic power … that we always met the rest of the world economically on our terms,” he lamented. “And now, because of the incredible rise of India and China and Brazil and other countries, the U.S. remains the largest economy and the largest market, but there is real competition.” Always ready to underreckon our country abroad, the president concluded that the upside to this relative decline in U.S. fortunes is that “this will keep America on its toes. America is going to have to compete.”
Mr. Obama ignores the fact that it was American invention, innovation and competitive spirit that gave the country its economic pre-eminence in the first place. Rather than lecturing Americans to get in the game, he would do better to reverse the anti-business political climate he has helped foster.
Mr. Obama is a representative of a liberal intellectual stratum that has never been comfortable with American global pre-eminence. He seeks a future in which the world sets the rules by which the United States must abide. His view of American limits was summed up when he said during the 2008 presidential campaign, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.” Why does Mr. Obama think other countries should have a say in these matters at all?
Mr. Obama was the first president to place the United States under the scrutiny of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which last week condemned America for, among other things, police brutality, discrimination against Muslims and illegally holding political prisoners (known to most of us as terrorist detainees). The council includes such dubious human rights torchbearers as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia; allowing these dark places to preach to the United States is fully acceptable in Mr. Obama’s world.
The notion of American exceptionalism is not part of Mr. Obama’s vocabulary. At the European summit of the Group of 20 in 2009, he quipped, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” To this president, “exceptionalism” does not refer to the uniquely American culture founded in freedom and pledged to the pursuit of human aspirations. To Mr. Obama, it is mere nativist subjectivity, in which every society thinks it is somehow “special.”
The president would do well to reflect on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s words: “Americans and Europeans alike sometimes forget how unique is the United States of America. No other nation has been built upon an idea, the idea of liberty. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture. … Whether in flight from persecution or from poverty, the huddled masses have, with few exceptions welcomed American values, the American way of life and American opportunities. And America herself has bound them to her with powerful bonds of patriotism and pride.”
Mr. Obama doesn’t recognize this America. In place of liberty, he substitutes redistributionist notions of social justice. Rather than a single American nation, he institutionalizes differences for political gain. Instead of patriotism and pride, he promotes internationalism and guilt. America’s decline is not the result of historical forces out of our control, but of condemning the history that brought the United States to its position of leadership. America will only resurge when it recaptures the moral image of the country as a land of individualism, opportunity and patriotism. That is an America Mr. Obama would rather do without.