A question of patriotism

Jonah Goldberg

4/21/2004 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg

According to the funhouse logic of the Kerry campaign, I have no choice but to question Kerry's patriotism.

As Mort Kondracke of Roll Call has been dutifully chronicling, ever since Kerry became the unofficial nominee, Kerry has claimed that criticism of his record equals criticism of his patriotism.

In February, when Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, listed the number of defense programs Kerry opposed - the MX missile, the B-1 bomber, the Tomahawk missile, the Apache helicopter, the Patriot missile, the Harrier jet and the F-15 fighter aircraft -Kerry's campaign manager immediately replied, "Today, RNC chair Ed Gillespie made another desperate attack on the patriotism of John Kerry."

And just this week Kerry denounced what he calls the administration's "twisted sense of morality and ethics" for questioning his patriotism.

"I fought under that flag and I saw that flag draped over the coffins of friends," Kerry declared, referencing his service in Vietnam for the 12,098,876,918th time by my rough count. "I'm tired of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and a bunch of people who went out of their way to avoid the chance to serve when they had the chance," he said.

According to The Washington Post, after one of these outbursts, Kerry was asked by reporters if he knew anything about Karl Rove's draft record. Kerry said he didn't, but "I'm just not going to be accused by any of these people of not being strong on defense, period."

So there you have it. Kerry leaves us with nothing but bad choices. If we truly think Kerry is, in fact, too soft of defense we can either A) lie, B) tell the truth and weather the accusations that we are "questioning his patriotism," or C) simply cut to the chase and question his patriotism directly.

Now, I don't really think Kerry's unpatriotic. But at the same time, I don't think it'd be the worst thing in the world to say so if it were true. If patriotism is defined as love of country, I fail to see why it's out of bounds to say that some people love America more - or less - than others.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, novelist Barbara Kingsolver declared,

"Patriotism threatens free speech with death... It despises people of foreign birth. It has specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists and the American Civil Liberties Union. In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder. Whom are we calling terrorists here?"

I have limited space here, but statements fundamentally similar to Kingsolver's are easy to find. Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Susan Sontag, Katha Pollitt, Oliver Stone: people like these have all added to the rich oeuvre of blame-America-first.

Not all of their statements are nearly so moronic or ill-timed, but I am at a complete loss as to why I can't say someone who agrees with Kingsolver, never mind Kingsolver herself, is less patriotic than the typical guy playing pool at an American Legion post.

Professional liberals have invested a vast amount of time and energy popularizing the notion that the worst thing in the world is to question the patriotism of someone to your left. I agree that it's not very nice, especially if it's unfounded. But I don't think questioning someone's patriotism is any worse than questioning their decency.

For generations, Democratic candidates and liberal journalists have asserted with impunity that Republicans, by their very nature, hate blacks, gays, children, the poor, the environment, animals and immigrants.

Al Gore ran as a champion of the "people against the powerful," claiming he cared about Americans more than Bush. His campaign manager declared that Republicans "have no love and no joy. They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them." Clinton routinely said that the GOP wanted to "punish" children. The organizers of the Million Mom March insisted that "good" moms support gun control.

Again: Why is it fair game to question conservatives' love or loyalty to children or to their fellow man, but beyond the pale to question liberals' love of country?

In fact, I think liberal defensiveness sometimes undermines their case. After all, if I angrily asked, "Are you saying I'm gay?" as often as liberals say, "Are you questioning my patriotism?" a lot of people would think I'm hiding something.

Here's the kicker, as Kondracke and others have noted. Kerry is lying when he says the White House has been questioning his patriotism. The only politicians who've been throwing around the unpatriotic charges have been the Democrats.

During the primaries, Howard Dean declared, John Ashcroft "is no patriot. He's a direct descendant of Joseph McCarthy" and John Kerry declared that Bush's economic policies are "unpatriotic." When pressed on such statements, the Democrats routinely cite Bush's record on this or that.

Get it? If I point out John Kerry voted against, say, the MX Missile, I'm questioning his patriotism. But when John Kerry questions Bush's patriotism, he's merely criticizing Bush's record.

Welcome to the funhouse, folks.