Back in the 2008 presidential campaign Michelle Obama garnered quite a bit of press when she explained how, for the first time in her life, she was proud of the United States of America.
It didn't do any lasting damage—her husband Barack won the election in a landslide after all—but her observation left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.
America, as Ronald Reagan often said, is "a shining city on a hill." A beacon of liberty, it casts a warm, beckoning glow to all those who aspire to live in freedom. In that light Mrs. Obama's observation is something less than stellar and demonstrates perhaps that she and her husband do not see things the way the rest of us may.
This is all relevant today because of what is happening in China where Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese activist who has been under house arrest for 19 months for protesting the country's policy of forced abortions, recently escaped and sought asylum in the U.S. embassy in Beijing or at least the assistance of the United States in having his freedom restored.
Chen expected relief. Instead the United States has apparently returned him to the custody of the Chinese authorities, even while top U.S. officials like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are in the country for high level talks with the governing Communist regime.
Chen and his family are said to want to come to the United States. The Obama administration, at least for the moment, appears cool to the idea. If he is forced to remain in China it is reasonable to assume that human rights are not, as the president and his party have repeatedly stated over the years, as important a part of U.S. foreign policy as they have made them out to be.
In securing Chen's release Obama has the chance to finally earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was surprisingly awarded in the first year of his presidency. If he does nothing—and allows Chen and his family to remain under the thumb of the Chinese Communist establishment—then we all have less of a reason to feel proud about our country. It would be a black mark on the nation's record that will not be easily erased.