It's not "gut instinct," I know precisely why
1) his "gut instinct that so many of us have, that America is the greatest country on Earth."
2) "the joys of American life and culture - its vitality, its variety, its freedom" that have "always outweighed its imperfections."
3) (What) "makes America great has never been its perfection, but the belief that it can be made better."
Now of course, Barack Obama is preemptively reacting to charges of lack of patriotism, but I'll grant the sincerity of his feelings. My "gut instinct" tells me Barack really does love America, in his own tepid liberal internationalist citizen-of-the-world sort of way.
I'm not at all sure that Michelle feels the same way though. She strikes me as a fairly typical example of the native American who loathes this country and the freedom and opportunity it provides, because the flip side of that opportunity is the possibility of insignificance.
Point 2) I think is spot-on. And though the "multi-culturalist" crowd never sees it, America is the real multi-culti deal. They don't see it because they are pig-ignorant phonies.
Point 3) deserves a lengthy treatment. What defines the American national character more than any other point, is that we are the ultimate meliorists. An American assumes, on a level so deep it is seldom questioned, that all problems have solutions and all situations can be improved. It is so ingrained in us that we just don't see that's it's not a univerally held assumption.
This is a highly ambiguous heritage. I have to point out that there is no evidence that this is always true, and a great deal to suggest it isn't.
We've achieved great things by refusing to believe they are impossible - and we've screwed the pooch a few times too.
One of the dangers of this kind of world-view is, when frustrated in attempts to achive perfection, the reformer tends to become the nihilist, concluding that the imperfect is unworthy to survive.
The ambiguity in our national character may yet destroy us as a nation and a people.
About point 1)- I agree. But it's not a "gut instinct," I know why America is the greatest country on earth.
I could write a book on the subject. Others have and perhaps someday I will too, but I'll list a few points for now, and try to come up with some less commonly discussed examples.
1) The balance between idealism and pragmatism.
The Founders knew very well that they were creating a new society by an act of will. But, they based it on local institutions that had been in place and functioning for almost two centuries - not to mention the English Common Law tradition well over a thousand years old at the time.
James Madison spent a lot of time studying the history of leagues of smaller states, mostly Greek, and the more recent European examples. What he was looking for was why they failed.
2) The balance of modern and archaic.
Where else in the world at the time did they have the notion of optional citizenship? That is, you can choose to become American - and in the eyes of the law, just as good as any native-born citizen. That's rare in the world, even today.
Among the Indians, that's where. (Or the Zulus or any number of other pre-modern societies, but that's the example they had in front of them.)
3) The balance of power and restraint.
As Pierre Treudeau said, living with America is like sleeping with an elephant, The elephant is unaware of you - but you know it every time it turns over in its sleep.
Yes, we've got the juice and we've used it on any number of occasions, some justified, some un-. Some to good effect, some not, and quite a few ambiguous.
Consider the liberation of Europe, resulting in half of the continent delivered to a regime which murdered ten times as many people as the Nazis,albeit over a longer term, and the other half freed to become ruled by whining, snivelling ingrates.
Or take the piratical annexation of Hawaii. But then, it really looks like that was going to be done by somebody - and who would you rather have?
Now compare what the U.S. has done with what it could do, and if you have trouble, just Google "Hiroshima" and look at the pictures.
Then consider that as nukes go, that was a light field-piece.
Power will be used - period. That's the pragmatic reality.
The notion that power should be used for the good, with restraint, oversight and much soul-searching beforehand. That's the idealism.
4) The balance of rights with duties and responsibilities.
Those aforementioned Indians, or the ancient barbarian tribes of Europe, had freedom unknown to more civilized peoples. A citizen/member answered to no one but his chief, and only so long as he freely acknowleged him as chief.
"For in those days there were no kings in Israel, but each man did what was right in his own sight." (II Samuel.)
In these societies there was no concept of "rights" because there was no notion of the lack of them.
They lost. All of them. Their lands, their cultures, their rights.
The heritage of the West, which was carried further in America than any nation had hitherto dared go, was how to be both free and united. And history offers no guarantees that's going to last either.
What I notice about this list is, that it's all about ambiguity and the balancing of contradictories.
The ability to deal with ambiguity is pretty much a definition of intelligence. And that's where we come to the point that'll make some folks howl.
America is a great country because it's a smart country.
How and why smart, and why it's dumbing down, I'll deal with later.