These comments were not well received by the president’s critics — as, indeed, his Niebuhrian forays rarely are. In the past, it’s been neoconservatives taking exception when Obama goes abroad and talks about our Cold War-era sins. This time, it was conservative Christians complaining that the president was reaching back 500 or 1,000 years to play at moral equivalence with people butchering their way across the Middle East.Douthat ignores Obama's reference to Jim Crow because it would damage his argument. Douthat cannot have an honest discussion because he would lose. During the relatively recent days of Jim Crow "good" Christians did horrific things, such as torturing, mutilating, crucifying and immolating thousands of African-Americans. Despite his Catholic belief that we are Fallen, Douthat doesn't like to hear about our sins. It's petty and ahistorical to ignore reality so one can continue to feel superior and Ross Douthat is that petty, ahistorical man.
But Douthat is also a Harvard Man and can come up with an intellectual-sounding argument to hide behind.
PRESIDENT OBAMA, like many well-read inhabitants of public life, is a professed admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous mid-20th-century Protestant theologian. And more than most presidents, he has tried to incorporate one of Niebuhr’s insights into his public rhetoric: the idea that no society is innocent, and that Americans in particular need to put aside illusions about our own alleged perfection.Douthat, who has no theological training, first criticized Obama for discussing religion because Obama has no theological training and obviously has no right to discuss the history of Christianity.
Douthat's next criticism of his country's leader is that foreigners don't want to hear Americans criticize their country's leaders anyway.
The second problem is that self-criticism doesn’t necessarily serve the cause of foreign policy outreach quite as well as Obama once seemed to believe it would. Early in his administration, especially around his 2009 speech in Cairo, there was a sense that showing Muslims that an American president understood their grievances would help expand our country’s options in the Middle East. But no obvious foreign policy benefit emerged, and since then Obama’s displays of public angst over, say, drone strikes have mostly seemed like an exercise in self-justification, intended for an audience of one. (Meanwhile, our actual enemies can pocket his rhetorical concessions: The alleged relevance of the Crusades to modern politics, for instance, has long been one of Al Qaeda’s favorite tropes.)Since Obama did not solve the entire Mid-East Problem we should never criticize ourselves. Obama only pleased himself by saying mean things about Christianity.
Douthat's next reason for criticizing his own country's leader for partisan personal benefit is to say that people who criticize their own country are just doing it for partisan personal benefit. Which is wrong.
A third problem is that Obama is not just a Niebuhrian; he’s also a partisan and a progressive, which means that he too invests causes with sanctity, talks about history having “sides,” and (like any politician) regards his opponents as much more imperfect and fallen than his own ideological camp. This can leave the impression that his public wrestling with history’s tragic side is somewhat cynical, mostly highlighting crimes that he doesn’t feel particularly implicated in (how much theological guilt does our liberal Protestant president really feel about the Inquisition?) and the sins of groups he disagrees with anyway (Republican Cold Warriors, the religious right, white conservative Southerners).
And naturally Douthat criticizes Obama for leaving out his side's sins while leaving out all of the Church's sins for the last 600 years.
Ah, Ross. Your chunkiness never disappoints, as you provide proof positive that you were right: those Harvard students who spent all their time doing as little as possible got almost nothing out of their Ivy League education.