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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

True Patriots Wear Uncle Sam Costumes

A drunk military man should order gallons and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendour.
-Unnamed Chinese sage, quoted by Evelyn Waugh in the preface to his novel Put Out More Flags


I couldn't remember the exact wording of that quote. But an address by Barack Obama on the subject of patriotism yesterday brought it to mind. I put the words I knew into Google and hoped for the best. Turns out it wasn't the first time I've used it -- I guess I remembered it perfectly at one time and, yes, I ran the full quote through Google again to doublecheck.

I found it in the comment thread to this bit of ridiculousness first published in the Houston Chronicle, relayed by Think Progress:

One thing Bush likes to do in the Gulf Coast is hand out American flags to families rebuilding their houses. Long before he shows up, Bush’s advance team scouts the non-hostile property owners in a neighborhood, and later, the president drops by and gives the family a flag. The White House thinks this makes for good pictures — and maybe it did, a month after the storm. But a year and half later, with the region still a mess and so many people displaced, it seems a little tone-deaf to be handing out flags — politically, it does invite comparisons to what Bush isn’t doing in the region.


Put out more flags. I suppose this is some sort of patriotism, just not a very useful kind. "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," Samuel Johnson once told his fulltime biographer Boswell. That fits here. Bush and his apologists on the right have long equated Bush with America, the president with the flag, and made the argument that anyone who disagrees with their "wartime president" isn't sufficiently patriotic.

In recent years, the right has acted as if they've cornered the patriotism market. As real as that patriotism may or may not be, it manifests itself in empty gestures like Bush's flag giveaway; talismanic, hollow, and pointless. We aren't supposed to just respect the flag as a symbol, we're supposed to worship it like an idol and a deity. They've reduced an appreciation of and respect for a nation of laws and justice to a game of "gotcha" over idiotic little lapel pins, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem. The only way to take this shallow patriotism to further absurdity would be to dress up like Uncle Sam on stilts and attack anyone who doesn't do the same. It is, after all, a time of war. We must all do our part. Now put on the damned beard and top hat.

Nowhere has this idiocy shown itself so blatantly than in the right's treatment of Barack Obama. In that address I mentioned earlier, Obama said:

Finally, it's worth considering the meaning of patriotism, because the question of who is or is not a patriot all too often poisons our political debates in ways that divide us rather than bring us together.

I've come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I've always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for president.

And yet, at certain times over the last 16 months, I've found for the first time my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.

So let me say this at the outset of my remarks: I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign.

And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.


Democrats, Libertarians, sane Republicans, and other people with minds of their own should join together, watch a Democrat who won't cower in the face of a flag like a vampire in front of a cross, and say in unison, "It's about damned time!"

Because the GOP has gotten away with this manipulative, passive-aggressive BS for far too long. Democrats, faced with this flag-waving lunacy, have taken it as a contest in the past and have tried to out-patriot the shallow patriots. As a result, issues that should've been addressed in previous campaigns have been overshadowed by this pointless, useless, and trivial debate over which candidate's waving their flag the hardest, whose hand is precisely over their heart, and who'd be the most outraged if some terrorist-sympathizer actually failed to worship the flag properly.

America, we're asked to believe, is absolutely perfect. There is no injustice here, no inequality, no one is less free. Anyone who'd dare to challenge the status quo is, therefore, insufficiently loving of this nation. You can't love something and criticize it. Love is, apparently, the belief that the beloved is flawless. The wife who wants her husband to quit drinking doesn't really love him. Love is faith in perfection -- at least, if we use the right's definition of love of country as our model.

Of course, that this works in the favor of the Republican party shouldn't surprise anyone. They are the party of the status quo, after all. In fact, they're not even the party of today's status quo, but the status quo of somewhere before the New Deal. I've always said that you should watch out when a Republican says they want change, because what they mean is that they want to change something back. They seek to undo change and return America to a past it never had. Never mind the institutional racism, never mind the existence of monopolies and robber barons, never mind the unsafe food and unregulated drugs -- everything was perfect back then.

Today's Republican party doesn't really stand for anything -- it stands against things. Nearly every position is a stand against something that's changed -- industry regulation, women's rights, abortion, evolution education, etc. All of these represent an attempt to change things back. The GOP doesn't move forward, but backward.

And, for them, democracy is useless. Since dissent is unpatriotic, everyone's already on the same page -- all the true Americans, anyway. At least, that's where this reasoning leads. If all real patriots all believe the same things, then voting isn't a democratic process, it's a process of confirmation. If it weren't for the unpatriotic rabblerousers in our midst, all of our elections would would be won by 100%.

Obama disagreed yesterday in his address on patriotism. "Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader, or government, or policy," he said. "As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.'"

As Sen. Carl Schurz once put it, "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." I've got a lot more use for that kind of patriotism than the kind that hands out stupid little flags to disaster victims. We all do. Even Republicans.

-Wisco

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