Pinning Down Real Patriotism

Posted: Oct 12, 2007 12:29 PM
Pinning Down Real Patriotism

Like many Americans, I hung our country’s flag on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then several flags have worn out and been replaced and retired. But it may finally be time to furl the latest flag and put it away for good. That seems to be the patriotic thing to do. At least according to Barack Obama.

Recently, a reporter asked Obama to explain why he doesn’t wear an American flag pin in his lapel. “Right after 9/11, I had a pin,” he said. But he took it off, because the flag doesn’t represent “true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security.” Furthermore, “I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism,” Obama concluded.

The senator’s comments bring to mind the famous G.K. Chesterton quote: “My country, right or wrong is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case,” he intoned. “It is like saying my mother, drunk or sober.” That seems to indicate that showing true patriotism means withholding your support when your country (or your mother) engages in activities you don’t wholeheartedly support.

But most people would support their mother whether she was drunk or sober. In fact, they’d probably lend even more support if she was drunk, because that’s when she’d really need extra help. Of course, supporting her includes trying to change her destructive behavior. A supportive child would certainly take away her car keys and attempt to convince her to stop drinking. But even if she refused all help and continued to drink to excess, few children would ever withdraw their love or stop trying to help her.

Patriotism should work the same way.

The United States has plenty of faults. Our federal government is too large and intrusive. It spends too much. It’s not doing enough to seal our borders. But being patriotic means supporting your country even while speaking out about its missteps, and while working to correct them. It doesn’t mean putting the flag away while waiting for some perfect future to arrive.

Sadly, Obama seems like a staunch patriot when compared to other Democrats. A recent FOX News poll found that 19 percent of registered Democrats think the world will be better off if the U.S. loses in Iraq. That’s one out of five Dems, rooting for us to lose.

This is merely the continuation of a recent trend. Back in May, a Rasmussen poll showed that 35 percent of Democrats think George W. Bush knew ahead of time about the 9/11 attacks. Another 26 percent aren’t sure whether he did or not. That’s three-fifths of Democrats who think it’s at least plausible that the president knew about an impending attack and did nothing to stop it.

Frighteningly, this number is a floor, not a ceiling. It’s not as if, in a year or two, a bunch of Dems are going to wake up and decide they’ve changed their minds. The number who think Bush knew ahead of time is likely to rise. No wonder so many of them are already rooting for us to lose. Look for that number to increase, too.

Mislabeled patriotism is a problem, because it creates a perverse prism through which events are viewed. For example, a few months ago I wrote a column saying our military leaders think we’re making progress in Iraq, and that we at home ought to support them in their mission. That, by the way, is what “patriotism” ought to mean: Believing your country can succeed and rooting for it to do so.

A reader calling herself GeorgiaGal wrote, “Hey, Rich Tucker. You believe fully in the war in Iraq. You are also a young, healthy, well-adjusted American male. I would like to know: When (not if) are you enlisting in the Army?”

By this reader’s standard, apparently, only those who are actually serving in Iraq are allowed to say they support the military’s mission. Meanwhile those who oppose the war would, at least under Obama’s definition, be free to speak their minds. We’d have effectively redefined patriotism to mean “either oppose the military or join it.” There could be no middle ground.

Our country needs people to serve in the military and put our policies into place. It also needs citizens willing to oppose policies they think are incorrect. But most of all, the United States needs citizens who believe it’s an exceptional country and want it to succeed. That’s patriotism. And too many people these days seem to lack it.