"How dare you question her patriotism?"
Every time I've written about Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the venomous left-wing Georgia congresswoman, her defenders have screamed at me saying that criticizing her for criticizing America was "McCarthyistic." Well, now that she's lost her primary campaign, all I can say is I wish I'd questioned her patriotism more.
But maybe the defeat of this America-bashing, dictator-coddling travesty of a representative might provide a useful opportunity to ask why it's considered so bad to question somebody's patriotism in the first place.
Seriously, what makes patriotism so special? According to various Democratic pols and more than a few high-profile journalists, the Bush Administration has spent much of the last year attacking the patriotism of its opponents. It is "clear how wrong the president was to sit back and let his political pals orchestrate a campaign to question the patriotism of those who urged a full national debate" on war with Iraq, writes Tom Oliphant of The Boston Globe. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman concurs: "The Bush administration," he wrote, is "always quick to question the patriotism of anyone who gets in its way."
Of course, actual examples of the administration's perfidy are rarely offered. And when examples are provided, they usually don't amount to much. But let's stipulate that in some small way some conservatives are questioning the patriotism of some liberals. What is so terrible about that?
For example, liberals constantly -and I do mean constantly -question the honesty, integrity, compassion and humanity of conservatives. And I don't mean specific conservatives, like "Joe Blow is an ogre" or "So-and-so eats puppies."
I mean categorical statements about all conservatives or all Republicans. As when Jesse Jackson declared, "in South Africa, we call it apartheid. In Nazi Germany, we'd call it fascism. Here in the United States, we call it conservatism." Or, when my friend Donna Brazille declared, while serving as Al Gore's campaign manager, that Republicans "have no love and no joy.
They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them."
President Bill Clinton regularly demanded that Congress pass legislation that, in his words, "lifts people up without punishing children" -the implication being that Republicans want to "punish" children. The Million Mom March blatantly suggested that good moms agree with Democrats on gun control. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt assert almost every day that Democrats care more about children, blacks, Latinos, women, Jews, Asians, dogs and cats than Republicans do. And at the same time they suggest, usually with very little subtlety, that Republicans hate all of the above.
Now why is it so terrible to suggest that conservatives are greedy, child-punishing, minority-hating, war-mongering bad mothers, but it's beyond the pale to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some liberals don't like America that much?
I'm not saying it's nice or appropriate to question the patriotism of your opponents but, frankly, I'm at a loss to understand why it's any worse than questioning someone's humanity.
Of course, there's a reason we aren't allowed to question anyone's patriotism -because liberals say we can't. It's the oldest form of political correctness in America: You can't say someone is unpatriotic.
This no-no was born in the left's myth-making over the McCarthy era; they say it's worse to question the patriotism of an American than for an American to spy against America. It remains a no-no because crying McCarthyism is a convenient way to stifle conservative dissent.
What's funny is patriotism is a pretty minor thing compared to, say, one's humanity. You can be completely right on every issue and be unpatriotic. And you can be wrong on every issue and love your country intensely. It's also worth pointing out that in America, patriotism is defined as a love for the institutions that keep us free -our constitutional rights, for example. Thus you can -and sometimes must -be critical of your government if you love your country.
But, it is flatly absurd to think that patriotism is irrelevant in political debate. No one cares if plumbers are unpatriotic, because you don't need to love your country to snake a toilet. But political leaders are expected to make judgments about what America should do. And a politician's love of country can tell you a lot about his or her judgment.
If a congressman thinks America has been walking on the wrong side of history, he or she would be likely to side with those who disagree with America now, be they the "international community," the United Nations or the "Arab world."
This is certainly true of McKinney, who was a poster child for America haters around the globe. And I, for one, consider that to be a perfectly legitimate political issue.