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Monday, July 05, 2004

Battle Patriotism - Challenger - Opening Argument

July 4

I've just returned home, having spent the holiday weekend away from the miasma of Dallas (or "237 parking lots in search of a city," as I like to call it). Just before leaving for the return trip, I checked my email one last time to see if our esteemed Chairman had sent the Battle topic. He had not -- but I did get a quick note from a pal, who joked that, since I would be on the road from before sunset to long after, "So you're missing fireworks? Man, you really DO hate America."

Indeed.

"Why do you hate America?" has become so common a query in today's Brave New World under President George W. Bush that it has passed the realm of a logical fallacy employed by savvy political operatives to hamstring their opponents (see also: "when did you stop beating your wife?")... and moved straight to cliched punchline. I doubt my friend took the time to ponder the irony of using words on July 4, 2004 that would have been considered an offensive charge of treason if asked of one of the founding fathers.

It is with a heart full of poignant emotion that I pause to take stock of the holiday. My ears ring with "Stars and Stripes Forever", my eyes take in every last "These Colors May Bleed But They Don't Run" SUV decal, my soul revels reviles reverberates at the prolific display of flag shirts.... for just a fiver, you too can display your national pride, Good American! Thank you, Old Navy! (and, thank you too, Pacific sweatshop workers, laboring for pennies on the U.S. dollar to keep our price for patriotism so low!)...

Lo! I have confused poignant emotion for nausea, as I observe a society around me that has never jumped quicker to wrap itself in the trappings of "patriotism," even as it narrows its eyes at neighbors, castigating countrymen who don't look or act "American enough."

But the hypocrisy is mine to bear, if I would judge those who judge. Patriotism is "love of country; devotion to the welfare of one's country; the virtues and actions of a patriot; the passion which inspires one to serve one's country," sayeth Webster. And who can measure the love, devotion, passion, or virtue of another? Or qualify it? or denigrate it?

I don't plan to wax mushy romantic here (just because I'm a chick doesn't mean I'm girlie), but where we find ourselves, the lovely Ms. Rosemary and I, is that we have been asked to define a subjective, baggage-laden term that defies definition. One man's patriotism is another man's jingoism, is another man's nationalism, is another man's boosterism, is another man's car door -- and who is to say which is which? Like all emotions, patriotism is complicated, and one size doesn't fit all.

"What is a Patriot in these times of war and uncertainty?" the Chairman asked.

"What is a 'patriot' in any time?" I reply. In and of itself, serving in the military does not make one patriotic or un-. Neither does not serving. The act of voting to go to war does not make one patriotic or un-. The only person that can unequivocally decide what patriotism means and whether it resides in any citizen's soul is that man or woman, in the mirror every morning.

[The first part of my position is that we cannot credibly judge or sanction the level of patriotism (or even the presence thereof) in any individual citizen.]

As to "treasonous" and "traitorous"... there was a time when those terms were reserved for those who actually committed crimes against America. Double agency during the Cold War is one example, causing our operatives in the USSR to be executed at the hands of the KGB. Aldrich Ames was a treasonous traitor, no question. And, our enemy's enemy is not always our friend, as we all have learned with the benefit of hindsight -- many considered the Iran-Contra affair an open act of treason.

To commit a true act of treason is unpatriotic. You know, like if a White House official broke the cover of a CIA operative in political retaliation because her husband publicly questioned the WMD charge that Bush used to lead the country to war? Well, that would be inarguably treasonous... and therefore about as unpatriotic as one can get. But regardless, a true act of treason is so rare these days that we can safely stipulate that it's a non-issue in the discussion.

(One might argue that using anti-American sentiment to incite a group to violence against those perceived as pro-America could be considered treason... but it'd sure be a stretch, especially considering the ridiculously higher incidence of the reverse in action.)

All things considered, the words "treasonous" and "traitorous" are bandied about so freely -- no longer slanderous epithets used sparingly but daily campaign fodder, just another tired set of talking points handed down from the head hacks -- that their shock value is now nil and their meaning is diluted. We can scratch those as bearing any remarkable weight.

[The second part of my position is that the words "treasonous" and "traitorous" have become practically meaningless, thanks to their overuse in the inflammatory rhetoric that is commonplace to the partisan players (of both sides) in American politics today.]

And it's definitely both sides. The liberal intelligentsia does love to perpetuate its "haught couture" -- witness even me, as I gently mocked someone who felt compelled to have a bald eagle and a flag airbrushed on his truck, right in this very post. That's not against any law -- freedom of speech and all that -- but there's also nothing superior about disparaging those who express their national pride in a legal fashion... no matter how tacky, how uninformed. (Frankly, that's part of the anxiety I feel as a libertarian-leaning liberal who has not yet seen Fahrenheit 9-11: is Michael Moore going to make me uncomfortable with the "crap percentage"?)

I feel that patriotism usually morphs into a negative emotion, one that leads well-meaning citizens to exclude, to draw the line in the sand between Us and Them. But as I resolved earlier, what I feel about any other individual citizen's patriotism or lack thereof -- even Oscar-winning filmmakers -- doesn't much matter. It's a free country, after all... so there's little reason to get verbose on that. (Lawdy, someone call the Blog Police, I think I just broke a cardinal rule.)

It's what I feel about the State and patriotism that gets the ball rolling.

Since September 11, our elected officials and their minions and yes-men have used the specter of anti-Americanism to browbeat those who would question their choices. This is practically the definition of argumentum ad hominem, the logical fallacy of attacking one's character instead of their actual position.

(I don't mean to imply that ad hominem attacks are a tool used solely by the right -- but when it comes to impugning an American's patriotism in particular, Bush supporters are re-writing the Official Field Guide on a near-daily basis.

That's not a jab tossed off by another leftie, either; it's simply the psychology of ideology. Mom, apple pie, and not questioning authority are the "brands" of conservatism.)

The strategies of this new McCarthyism often defy all logic -- and yet appeal to the citizen who can be distracted by waving flags and sleight of hand. And it isn't even always just to redirect criticism of the current administration; the clouds of anti-American accusation are being appropriated for any and all conservative causes. Witness this bit from right-winging poster boy Stephen Silbiger in the National Review (emphasis mine):
"The AFL-CIO website has for years been linked to the most vile anti-American websites. When we launched our war on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it took only a few clicks to get from the AFL-CIO homepage to articles by Noam Chomsky alleging that we are in Afghanistan to commit genocide. As the Congress debated the resolution on Iraq, it took only a few clicks to get from the AFL-CIO homepage to articles on how the U.S. is blocking the return of arms inspectors to Iraq and how 'massive' demonstrations against George Bush are taking place around the world.

"I cite all this to make it clear that the American labor movement has been taken over by those who hate America so much that they would not allow it to defend itself against its enemies."


By Mr. Silbiger's rationale (which openly ignores how the Web works, which plays right to the non-wired American), the Iron Blogger Republican herself has been taken over by those who hate the Republican Party so much that they would run it out of D.C. on a rail... since it only took me two -- not even "a few" -- clicks to get here from her website. (to Poliblogger, then to a Google ad, if anyone cares)

But, so what if the AFL-CIO website linked directly to a story about global demonstrations against the President? Have the founding principles of the United States been so cowed, dismantled to the point that no one is allowed to say aloud that an elected official might be unpopular? America was borne of dissent. The freedom we so garishly flaunt includes the right to question our leaders.

[The third part of my position is that looking askance at our leaders and their actions is not unpatriotic, and in fact is closer to the patriotism that the founding fathers hoped to sow than any other behavior.]

Further, when the authority being questioned is an elected or appointed official who serves as an employee of the people of the United States of America, he or she does not have the right to keep the curtain closed when we try to draw it back. Scott McClellan may answer directly to President Bush... but the President answers directly to We The People, and therefore at the highest levels we have a right to ask questions without bracing to have our own character attacked or our motives maligned in a punitive turn.

By the definition of the word, there cannot be one indisputable example of an American patriot... but if there is a pure example of anti-Americanism, it's when elected officials cry "unpatriotic!" at the very voters that awarded them their jobs, and merely want to discern whether those jobs are being done satisfactorily. The line between dissent and destructiveness is drawn when those in power abuse their position to make ad hominem accusations toward their constituents and detractors.

[The fourth and final part of my position is that the only incontrovertible display of anti-Americanism is when representatives of the State challenge the "patriotism" of a dissenting citizen.]

To question why we are at war in Iraq, and whether we were sold a pig in a poke by the Bush administration to get there, is not unpatriotic. One thing George McGovern nailed in one was his statement that "[t]he highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher standard."

Americans are now calling. Our leaders don't get to ignore -- not by silence, media oppression, obfuscation or insults.

I feel that the Iron Blogger Republican is a true patriot, an American who loves her country and is devoted to its well-being. I look forward to her Opening Argument, as we exchange ideas in the most patriotic of venues. And if she wants to mud-wrestle in flag bikinis to a Lee Greenwood soundtrack, I'll do that too.

Best,

PG

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