"It's complicated," says Will Wilkinson:
[F]or many conservatives, to love America is to insist on the sanitisation of historical fact. We see this attitude at work in the Oklahoma state legislator's recent proposal to nix Advanced Placement American history courses on the grounds that such courses, by teaching some actual history, tend to cast the country's past in a rather unflattering light. But plenty of facts about America just aren't very flattering. A few miles from my house one can find battlefields where men killed and died for the right to keep other men as slaves, as well as the place where many thousands of dispossessed captive Cherokee were forced to begin a genocidal march to Oklahoma. And that's just Chattanooga!
Now, Mr Obama's political worldview is pretty much what one would expect from a moderately left-leaning African-American law professor. This means that the president is indeed keenly aware of, among other blots on the national record, America's exceptionally savage history of slavery and white supremacy, and its ongoing legacy. This sort of awareness inevitably—and justifiably—complicates a relationship to one's country. Many of us have been ill-treated or abused in one way or another by our parents. We love them anyway, because they are ours, but we don't forget the abuse, and it tempers the quality of our devotion. Love of country is not so different.
The ardent and unclouded quality of love that [Rudy] Giuliani and [Kevin] Williamson find missing in Mr Obama is largely the privilege of those oblivious of and immune to America's history of injustice and abuse. Those least aware of historical oppression, those furthest from its living reality, will find it easiest to express their love of country in a hearty and uncomplicated way. The demand that American presidents emanate this sort of blithe nationalism therefore does have a racist and probably sexist upshot, even if there is no bigotry behind it.
Mr Obama's politically compulsory declarations of America's exceptionalism have always struck me as rote, a little less than heartfelt, even a bit grudging. Mr Giuliani, I think, has come away with a similar impression, as have many millions of conservatives. The difference is that where Mr Giuliani sees a half-hearted allegiance to the fatherland, some of us see instead evidence of education, intelligence, emotional complexity and a basic moral decency—evidence of a man not actually in the grip of myths about his country. A politician capable of projecting an earnest, simple, unstinting love of a spotless and superior America is either a treacherous rabble-rouser or so out of touch that he is not qualified to govern. So Barack Obama doesn't love America like a conservative. So what? His realism and restraint are among his greatest strengths.