By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The main message of President Obama's big line speaking to Turkey's parliament yesterday struck me as being akin to one he pushed during the presidential campaign last summer and fall.
From today's New York Times:
"The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans," he said. "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country.
"I know," he said, "because I am one of them."
And then he paused. Throughout his speech, he had moved swiftly from passage to passage, but this time, he waited for the interpreter to catch up. After about five seconds, the applause came.
During the presidential campaign, people found Obama appealing, but in order to close the deal he had to dispel lingering doubts about his connection to the American mainstream. As I wrote after Obama's acceptance speech last August:
Obama needed to place himself squarely within the Middle American identity--show that he is one of us, not a strange other and not beholden to the needs of a special interest (be that race or the broad collection of what Republicans call the Democratic client groups). He made connections between his own family and the kind of every family with whom swing-voting Americans can identify: "Because in the face of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI bill." (Marched in Patton's Army? He makes Patton sound like a Civil War or Revolutionary War general.)
This was the first of several refrains connecting the Obama experience with the American experience, culminating in a direct shot at the GOP's main line of recent attack: "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me."
While he's obviously not trying to suggest to foreign Muslims that he is one of them, or fits into their continuum of experience, when he reminds them that he has lived in a Muslim country and that his middle name is Hussein, he is making a similar attempt to allay fears. We'll see how it works out.
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