If Republicans are making too much of Michelle Obama's gaffe that "for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country" -- and well they might, because it could win them the election -- Democrats are making way too little of it. It could lose them the election.
Republicans like to paint lefty negativism about America as treason, while Democrats like to paint it as the First Amendment right to criticize and expect more of the country you love. It's actually a third thing: it's ideological arrogance. A lot of Democrats, and certainly the vast majority of those in inner cities and on college campuses, believe the country has been on the wrong track basically since RFK was shot, with a few disappointing lurches to one side or the other. They cannot feel proud of their country unless liberals and liberalism are in power.
If you know any dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, you know that Michelle simply spoke the way Democrats routinely speak to each other, and forgot the national media were eavesdropping. You know, "the long national Republican nightmare is almost over." I daresay some young Republicans felt just about the identical way when Ronald Reagan came into office. They couldn't have been very proud of their country when it was dominated by antiwar demonstrations, the sex-drugs-rock'n'roll counterculture, the withdrawal from Vietnam, the soaring abortion and divorce rates, etc. That doesn't mean they hated America; on the contrary, it meant they loved it, and therefore hated the way it was going to hell with (in their view) the wrong people at the wheel. Same thing.
So you may believe that they were right and liberals are wrong, or vice versa, but that's all it is -- a disagreement about who should be in charge and which way the country should be going. That is not, however, how it's going to be spun by the Republican party's expert political operatives, who will present it to mainstream Americans as America-hatred. Especially going up against a former POW, it could cost Barack the election. So it was a really dumb thing for a smart woman to say. Note to Michelle: Self-righteousness makes people stupid and careless.
I don't mean to imply that everything about the liberal vision of America is bad. Some social compassion, some environmental awareness, some willingness to be part of the world rather than a monolingual fortress of know-nothingism, some care about recklessly charging off to war -- these are good things, needed to temper our entrepreneurial zeal, vigorous defense, and justified national pride. Some of them -- the equality of women and green energy innovation -- are now getting woven in modified form into the conservative worldview. Are liberals like Obama doing the same with the most proven conservative virtues? Yes, they can. The tragedy of the ideological polarization of America has been that the country needs both hemispheres of its brain functioning together, not a lurching alternation between them.
UPDATE II: Here's the damage control, and it's good. She does a good, composed, relaxed job of defending herself. She doesn't seem at all flustered or defensive. She says "really proud" referred to the level of turnout and political engagement she's never seen before. Says she would not be where she is if not for America, and wouldn't be "doing this" if she didn't love her country. She shifts the discussion without rushing to change the subject. The vibe she emits is genuine. Classy, you have to grant her that.
Welcome, Instapundit readers! (Of course Michelle's explanation will not lay this story to rest, because it taps into a reservoir of doubt and resentment about certain Democrats' predominantly critical view of their country. Are the Obamas among those Democrats, or not? If I were a Republican strategist I'd be linking up Michelle's words with Barack's willingness to talk to Hugo Chavez, and I'd wager that somewhere there is a Republican strategist laying those plans right now. What her explanation does show is that she's got solid legs as a political candidate's spouse. Everyone is going to make mistakes, and the poise and perceived sincerity with which they are corrected is a major factor in the success of any campaign. Democrats will be eager to call this the end of the story. Republicans will say she's a really good actress.)