Monday, February 25, 2008

What is Patriotism anyway?

Today Barack Obama fought back against charges that he is not sufficiently patriotic.

He and his wife have recently been accused of this by the right wing, citing three main pieces of 'evidence', 1) a photograph taken last year at Tom Harkin's steak fry in which Obama stands at attention but with his hands clasped in front of him rather than with one over his heart during the playing of the national anthem (Harkin and fellow candidate Bill Richardson are in the photograph as well in a more traditional pose;) 2) the fact that Obama last year during the campaign stopped wearing a small American flag button on his lapel, and 3) the statement that Michelle Obama made last week saying that 'for the first time in my adult life,' she was proud of her country.

Obama responded forcefully today, saying,

"The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country."

But more to the point, he said that his choice not to put his hand over his heart would 'would disqualify about three-quarters of the people who have ever gone to a football game or baseball game.'

In regard to his wife's comments, he said that she meant to say for the first time she was proud of the way politics was conducted in this country, and had misspoken. Well, that's what he said, and either you believe it or not, but it's not like people never say anything they regret later. That's why I rarely pay attention to political gaffes (even President Bush's frequent ones) unless they are clearly well thought out and repeated and thereby give one a window into the soul of the person who says it (i.e. 'macaca.')

His point (and the reason he removed the lapel pin) is this: Patriotism is something that a person holds in his or her heart, and it should not be measured by counting the number of American flags or yellow ribbons or whatever other outward signs someone displays.

I have a tattered flag in front of my door that I put there on Sept. 11, 2001, and haven't taken down since. That is my choice. But it would be just as much my choice if I chose NOT to have it there, and it would make me no less patriotic if I did not.

I consider patriotism to be fighting against attempts to cut funding for veterans programs or deny disability for disabled veterans coming back from Iraq.

I consider patriotism to be trying to create a nation in which all Americans have a stake in the country.

I consider patriotism being to fight for the rights that our Founding Fathers fought for, including the right to NOT be compelled to say anything (or by failing to display any symbol, be assumed to be saying anything.)

Surely it would have been politically easier for Barack Obama to do the 'safe' thing and keep the lapel pin on and put his hand on his heart during the pledge. But lately that has become a requirement instead of an option, and a requirement like that is in effect tyranny. And expecting it as 'part of the drill,' frankly cheapens its value for those who DO choose to wear a flag pin or otherwise follow the 'expected' rules for 'patriots.'


shrimplate said...

Patriotism is cheap.

wstachour said...

I'm incredibly grateful to live in a civilized, prosperous country.

But the overt celebration of that fact seems like jingoism to me. It hardly seems right to overtly celebrate things which we claim are due to us as fundamental rights. So, love of circumstance, absolutely; love of country? I'm a little skeptical. (It doesn't help that the people who make these accusations against Obama are so odious and wrong-headed otherwise.)

It makes me think that having to fight to "defend" freedom is to acknowledge our deep, anti-democratic tendencies

Zach said...

I don't agree with wunelle. I think that having to fight for our freedom is an important part of who we, as Americans, are. I think it is the way we got the Country, the Constitution and the values that we have now.

I also, however, agree with Eli on several points. First, political gaffes are absurd. Every President, and even candidate, has a few posted on the internet. How many times a year, a month, a week, or even a day do we all misspeak? Exactly. The only difference is, we're not in the public spotlight constantly.

Second, all politicians are in politics for a mix of two reasons: ego and patriotism. All have some of each. If they had an ego without patriotism, there are other things they could be doing. If they had patriotism without the ego they would be quietly serving their country in some other way. The way to read that balance is not the number of flags one wears in public, or the way one celebrates their devotion to the country. The reality is that anyone whose outlet for their ego and craving for power is the Presidency is also a patriot, in a very real and serious way. And only the candidates, and maybe some of their closest associates, know where that balance lies for each of them.

Eli Blake said...

Good comments, all.

The whole difference between us and the people we were fighting during the Cold War was not that people saluted the flag. They did so in both countries. The differnce was in what happened with people who didn't salute the flag.