“The left’s unease with patriotism is rooted in a 1960s narrative of American arrogance and abuse of power,” Will Marshall, president of the group’s (DLC) Progressive Policy Institute, wrote last month. “The excesses of protest politics still haunt liberalism today and complicate Democratic efforts to develop a coherent stance toward American power.”

It’s hard to read Will Marshall’s comments without seeing in them a defense of arrogance and abuse of power. Was it arrogant to go to war with the North Vietnamese Army? Was the Gulf of Tonkin incident an abuse of power? Were Mark Felt’s black-bag jobs an abuse of power? Did Richard Nixon abuse his power? Was Nixon arrogant when he said, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal”?

When Samuel Johnson said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” was he completely off the mark?

American liberals love America as much as anyone. But most of us see patriotism as problematic. The problem arises when people think in purely national terms. The big issues facing the world today are the availability of energy, global warming, medical epidemics, transnational terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. None of these issues are national in character, and none of them can be managed unilaterally.

Moreover, there is something unseemly in an ordinary person taking extraordinary pride in accomplishments they had no role in bringing about and which they poorly understand. The controversial psychiatrist, Wilhelm Reich, touched on this in his book, Listen, Little Man.

The Little Man does not know that he is little, and he is afraid of knowing it. He covers up his smallness and narrowness with illusions of strength and greatness, of others’ strength and greatness. He is proud of his great generals but not proud of himself. He admires thought which he did not have and not the thought he did have. He believes in things all the more thoroughly the less he comprehends them, and does not believe in the correctness of those ideas which he comprehends most easily….

It’s true that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”, and a wise politician will not forget to utilize the Stars and Stripes in their signs, pamphlets, and commercials. But trite appeals for God to bless America are not absolutely necessary to political success. And base appeals to the jingoistic side of American culture remain suspect in most liberals’ minds.

It would be different if we hadn’t so frequently fallen so short of our freedom loving rhetoric. Will Marshall refers to the ‘excesses of protest politics’ as if those excesses weren’t in the service of ending Jim Crow, getting women equal pay, or curbing the excesses of a national security apparatus run amok, violating our civil rights, and armed to the teeth.

As far as I am concerned, we are right back in the early 1970’s. The same characters are in power, we are losing a war that we started based on a pack of lies, and there is a cancer at the heart of the Presidency.

If we are suffering from anything, it is the lack of excessive protest politics.

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