July 4, 2008
Do Liberals Love America Too?By Rick Moran
It's nearly mid-summer here in the beautiful Midwest. The old saying about the corn being "knee high by the 4th of July" is laughably anachronistic. These days, with hybrid seeds, scientific farming methods, and soil so rich it's almost a separate food group by itself, the corn is waist high by now and reaching for the sky.
There is perhaps no holiday I look forward to more in my adulthood than the 4th. I have several traditions that have taken hold over the years; viewing the wonderful series The Revolution on the History Channel all day, playing patriotic music both old and new, steaks on the barbecue, watching the White Sox, and finally a trip to the local fireworks show.
And never far below the surface is a powerful emotion that can emerge at the most unexpected of times. Sometimes, a particular song can make the throat tighten or a passing memory of a childhood patriotic celebration will cause my eyes to mist over. These outward manifestations of patriotic feelings are, I am sure, shared by many if not most conservatives. We love this country of ours. We worship its past -- the great men and women who risked so much and sacrificed all to create the greatest nation on earth. We glory in our traditions and the symbols of our nationhood.
This despite the fact that most of us also recognize that America has failed at times to live up to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution; that to this day, the words "all men are created equal" ring hollow for those who suffer the effects of racism, sexism, and bigotry. And that we, a nation of immigrants, don't always welcome newcomers the way we should.
This is one of the major reasons I love history. America is, at bottom, the most schizophrenic nation imaginable. As long ago as 1765 in the midst of the Stamp Act crisis, wise old Samuel Johnson, the English man of letters who compiled the first English language dictionary, wrote to a friend "Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of Negro slaves?"
Johnson nailed the historical dichotomy of America that continues to this day. We are nation in love with peace that has fought uncounted wars, battles, skirmishes and covert operations just since the end of World War II. We are a nation with a Statue of Liberty who welcomes immigrants with the stirring words "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, ..." who then turns around and puts up signs "No Irish need apply" or "English only spoken here."
Herein lies the great chasm that separates liberals and conservatives when it comes to defining the word "patriotism." The right sees patriotism as a physical, emotional connection with the past; an open acknowledgment and tribute to those who came before us and guaranteed with their blood, sweat, and tears that we, their progeny, would live in freedom. We are aware that America is not all it could be but rather than dwelling on our imperfections, we celebrate all that is good and decent in this land and its people.
The flip side of the same coin is how liberals define patriotism. They seem to intellectualize their love of country. They distrust outward displays of patriotic emotion, tending to equate fervor with patriotism's evil twin -- nationalism. Liberals see a problematic past for America and are not shy about pointing out where America has fallen short in its promises of liberty and equality.
But does this mean that liberals are less patriotic than conservatives?
Is it unpatriotic to want your country to live up to its extraordinary ideals? Is it unpatriotic to criticize what liberals see as hypocrisy in our history, where we celebrate freedom while keeping millions in bondage? Or speak glowingly of Native American culture while treating them abysmally?
Last week, Peter Beinart penned the most thoughtful article on patriotism of the right and left I have ever read. In it, he demonstrated that just because the two sides define the word differently doesn't mean that both don't love America equally. Here's how Beinart, a man of the left, defines the way liberals see patriotism: ()
Just this past Monday, Barack Obama, feeling his patriotism questioned, gave a similar explanation for where his own patriotism flows:
A fair minded person can read what Obama says and get the sense that his idea of patriotism really isn't that much different from the love of country expressed by conservatives. He condemns the mindless hatred many on the far left express about America while acknowledging that honoring the symbols and history of America is a legitimate way to express one's patriotism. The key to his love of America, though, is his belief that where our past comes up short in living up to our ideals, it is our patriotic duty to close that gap.
Beinart shows how even though there are different ways that liberals and conservatives express their love of country, they are both necessary and vital for a whole America:
In a very real sense, Beinart's ideas are as revolutionary as America itself. His connecting the two different yet essential forms of patriotism harkens back to our founding where two competing views on the nature of man fought for dominance at the Constitutional Convention.
The difference between liberal and conservative on this point is profound and has been at the bottom of every political argument in our history. It goes back to the debate over the Constitution -- between those who possessed what historian Page Smith referred to as a "classical Christian conscience" and those who believed in the values and precepts of the enlightenment.
Smith believed that the Constitution is infused with elements of both but that the classical Christian conscience dominates. It is the belief that man is inherently evil and will do mischief to his fellow man unless restrained by law and governance. (Smith ascribed a belief in original sin and man's corruptibility as prerequisites for the classical Christian conscience.) Most of the Federalists ended up in this camp if only because they saw a need to restrain the passions of the common man and keep a strong hand on the tiller of state.
The Jeffersonians had a much more expansive and benign view of human nature. They believed in the perfectibility of man and, like true children of the enlightenment, saw man as basically good but error prone. By applying rational and reasoned concepts to government, Jeffersonians believed man was perfectly capable of governing himself as long as sensible laws were enacted to govern his passions.
One can immediately see the basics of the liberal-conservative schism in this debate over the shape of our constitution. And if you were to extrapolate a bit, you can even see how two definitions of patriotism could emerge from the competing philosophies.
I hold out little hope that many readers (at least those who leave comments) on this site or most sites on the internet would grant Mr. Beinart the legitimacy of his thesis. The patriotism issue is just too emotionally charged and too closely identified with the war for most of us to let go of our petty vindictiveness and grant the opposition the one thing both sides crave the most; recognition that they are acting with the best interests of the United States uppermost in their hearts and minds.
I'm not saying everyone should abandon political combat and move into some loathsome kind of Obama-led paradise where everybody agrees about everything and our great national debates on the war, the energy crisis, the budget, or social issues would suddenly be stilled as we all recognize the error of our ways and come together to hold hands around the great American campfire. That sickening kind of political heaven might be attractive to the ignorant but idealistic young and a segment of the left that sees opposition to its policies the same way the Catholic Church viewed Martin Luther.
But it is not for me. I will continue to battle the left with anger at times but also humor, sarcasm, and satire - hopefully vouchsafing the genuineness of their beliefs and yes, their patriotism in opposing me.
That's an ideal that all of us -- liberal and conservative -- can live up to.
Rick Moran is associate editor of American Thinker and proprietor of the website Rightwing Nuthouse.