Why did patriotism, and in particular Obama’s patriotism, become an issue in this election campaign? It sure is funny how that happened, isn’t it? Because, as the Washington Post points out today, in a “critical story” examining this oh so important issue: why doesn’t he wear a flag pin? Is he a stealth communist pawn, an islamofascist or just a garden variety sort of traitor to his country?
The questions come on cable and radio talk shows, and sometimes from skeptical voters at his own rallies. “Hi, Barack. I am a supporter, a believer and a volunteer for you, and I’m trying to convince my mother to be one also,” a woman said at a campaign event last week in Kokomo, Ind. “. . . One of the issues she has heard is that you do not address the flag.”
Yep, the flag. At a time of growing economic distress, when we are fighting two foreign wars and losing both, when global warming is threatening our planet’s future, when people have no health care or live in fear that they could lose the crappy health care they do have at any time, why are we even talking about flag pins? Why is Obama’s patriotism such an important concern to our media elites, or to be more specific why is the flag so goddam important as an indicator of how patriotic a person is, at least when it comes to Obama, if not his political rivals?
Naturally, criticism of Obama’s patriotism has nothing to do with all the hyped media coverage of this issue, from large outlets and small ones. Naturally, it has nothing to do with the sleazy tactics of his Republican and Democratic opponents. Naturally it has nothing to do with Obama being the first African American presidential candidate with a realistic shot of getting elected President.
Which goes to show, of course that attacks on his patriotism have everything to do with all of the above. Without the initial and continuous media hype, without the opportunistic and hypocritical attacks of his opponents, and without the prevailing racial stereotype among whites that black people are somehow less patriotic than other groups, but especially hard working, patriotic white people, this wouldn’t be an issue in this campaign. Indeed, the primary focus of the media’s hissy fit over the Rev. Wright was the suggestion that Obama’s pastor was somehow an American hating black man, and that because Obama associated with him for so long Obama must be one of those uppity, America hating negroes, too.
I suppose we could simply throw up our hands in resignation over the fact that this is what our politics has devolved into, the lowest of the lowest denominators. Or like Senator Clinton, we could make a virtue out of being as nasty as the Republicans and simply say “Tough beans, Senator Obama. Politics is a nasty business. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” But I, for one am sick on hearing the refrain that “This is how it has always been, and this is how it will continue to be, forever and ever, amen.” We can’t control the cable news shows and their thirst for controversy and division, even if they have to manufacture it. We can’t control the actions of politicians who revel in the politics of personal destruction, because like pigs in a muddy, turd filled sty, that is all they have ever known.
We can however, resist the temptation to wallow in pity, or outrage, or anger at the hypocrisy, racism and injustice of tarring Obama with the “unpatriotic” brush. Indeed, we can take a page from Obama himself who has courageously taken on the conventional wisdom that forces Democrats to prove their patriotic cojones every step of the campaign by participating in drinking contests, riding in tanks, saluting America on national television, promising to “obliterate” our so-called enemies, or wearing flag pins. We can appeal, not to the worst part of our national heritage, but to the best parts. As he does:
Past Democrats have sought to prove their patriotic and security credentials on Republican terms — Dukakis riding in a tank, Kerry declaring at the 2004 convention that he was “reporting for duty.” Not Obama. In his stump speech, he says that as commander in chief he would “keep you safe” and “not hesitate to strike at those who would do us harm,” but he also argues for restoring the country’s values abroad, saying that “there’s no conflict between our safety and our security and our standing in the world.”
Buttressing this position are repeated encomiums to American goodness and potential: “I believe the American people are a decent people and a generous people,” he says. “What I was banking on was if we could just draw our forces together . . . then I was certain there was no problem we could not solve, and there was no destiny we would not fulfill.”
Democrats marvel at Obama’s assertiveness. “He has a willingness to confront a theme that has traditionally been a real liability for Democrats,” said Jim Jordan, who ran the early part of Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “He talks about love of country in a more convincing and natural way than most Democrats do, than we’ve seen in a long time.”
I marvel at Obama’s willingness to defy the so-called conventional wisdom, which requires Democrats to prove their patriotism using the ssimplified right wing definition, with its ever changing criteria, rather than simply speaking to up about what patriotism means to them, personally. Obama has done that like few politicians in my lifetime.
So, how can we help him overcome this idiotic nonsense, where one’s patriotism is equated with “my country right or wrong” nationalism? Where symbols such as the flag are more important than actual service to one’s country and it’s people? Well, one thing we can do is to put the words “obama is a Patriot” in every comment left on any blog, forum, media website or bbs. Usually all that will take is changing the signature line in your profile at the various websites where you post comments.
We can also link to this story and others like it which defend Obama’s patriotism. We can continue to post to our blogs using the words “Obama is a patriot” or similar phrases. We can write letters to the editor of both print and online editions of newspapers such as the Washington Post, for example. And if anyone wants to borrow any of the words I’ve ever posted on this topic, you’re welcome to use them, free of charge. We can’t change the old style media culture overnight, but we can effect the new media of the web, the blogosphere. We can put out the meme that Obama’s version of patriotism is a higher, better one than those forced upon us by custom or the political media elites, who choose to see patriotism as merely a gotcha game with easy and stupid rules which must always be followed.
Many people have claimed that dissent is the highest form of patriotism, but it isn’t dissent, its a love of country that is so strong it requires us to tell the truth about our actions, our history and our leaders, even when that truth is uncomfortable or unfashionable. It is also the willingness to assert that the pursuit of our highest ideals and aspirations is what a patriot must do if he or she truly loves their country. Obama has issued that call. Let’s help him propel that message, for the sooner we do, the sooner the ad hominem attacks on any person’s patriotism based on trivialities and nonsense can be countered.
We will always have those who prefer a juvenile, “my country right or wrong” definition of what it means to be a patriot, but we don’t have to let that definition stand unanswered, and we shouldn’t be afraid to disavow its ludicrous tenets for something better. So, repeat after me:
Obama is a Patriot