Even on Memorial Day, President Obama honored the troops he commands in an odd way.
He serves as commander-in-chief, he said, to "one of the finest fighting forces the world has ever known."
One of? The president of the United States has to qualify his praise for our troops? Is he so deathly afraid of "committing" American swagger that he can't claim to lead the finest force in history? Can even an unpatriotic American rationally and effectively argue the point? Can it not be shown to be demonstrably true?
What is it with this guy?
It may seem a small thing to pore over a subtle choice of words -- but isn't this the guy who, during the 2008 campaign, famously argued that words matter? Remember his "Just words" speech? And aren't the media convinced Mr. Obama understands "nuance" in ways we mere mortals cannot?
In addition, taken by itself the passage may not grab one's attention. But it's a pattern with this president.
It's certainly not the first time he has consciously and conspicuously backed away from praising his country or showing pride in it. As a candidate, he had to be shamed into wearing an American flag pin. And as president, aside from the multiple mea culpas he issued to the world on our behalf in his first year in office, he said this when asked in Europe if he believes in American exceptionalism: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
The answer bizarrely equates American exceptionalism with mere national pride, which shows a profound ignorance of the phenomenon unsuited to a commander-in-chief. Neither the Brits nor the Greeks have any delusions that their countries are the most powerful in the world.
And how many people in the world would deny the United States the title of finest fighting force the world has ever known? Certainly not those rational, objective folks who've been liberated by it!
More subjectively, there's never been a more potent force on Earth -- or one that uses that power more discreetly, or to nobler ends. History's great militaries plundered; America's is helping build infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq, including schools that the natives would have denied little girls.
How can you not have exceeding pride in all that? "One of"? Name another like it in history!
More importantly, our president should understand that American exceptionalism -- as we have pointed out here before -- is not about Americans, per se. We're not born exceptional. What makes America first among nations -- yes, we said it -- is our utterly unprecedented system of self-governance that includes, in the Bill of Rights alone, more human rights than most nations have ever read about.
It's our individual liberty, our founding documents' acknowledgement of man's "unalienable rights" -- and most importantly the declaration that those rights come from God, not any construct of man -- that makes America exceptional.
One need not be ashamed of it. One -- especially one in the Oval Office -- ought, instead, to be proud of it, particularly among foreign audiences.
It's not "one of the finest" systems the world has ever known. It's the best.
Why is that so hard?