Is Blind Patriotism that patriotic?

  • Newsweek/MSNBC: Time for a New Patriotism? —

    True loyalty to country is about more than saluting. A case for redefining the concept

      Britney Spears, best known recently for a lip lock with Madonna, is hardly an authority on the political ramifications of September 11. But Spears has a bankable feel for the popular pulse, and her comments last week reflected a good chunk of public opinion on the subject of patriotism: “I think we should just trust the president in every decision he makes,” she told CNN, “and we should just support that, and be faithful in what happens.”

      MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, most of them Republicans, define themselves politically and define others patriotically by adherence to that simple Spears standard. The Bush White House will do everything it can to identify those voters; play to their sometimes sublimated emotions of fidelity and fear, and turn the first Tuesday in November 2004 into a referendum on the second Tuesday in September 2001. Stay Proud. Stay Safe. Vote Bush.

      But now a hard-nosed Democratic critique has emerged, reflected in Howard Dean’s surprising success and Al Franken’s runaway best seller that documents lies told by Bush and other conservatives. This view is a twist on Bush’s taunt to the terrorists, “Bring ‘em on.” These Democrats are essentially saying to him: “Go ahead, make ads wearing that flight suit on the aircraft carrier; visit Ground Zero with a bullhorn during the GOP convention next year in New York; try to ‘Dukakisize’ the Democratic nominee as an unpatriotic weenie. This time, it ain’t working.” And, by the way, “We told you so on the failure of your go-it-alone arrogance abroad and your job-killing, feed-the-rich economy at home.”

      . . . But soon patriotism moved from a comfort to a cudgel. An impulse that had briefly united now often divided, as it did in the past. At the turn of the last century, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), who was deemed a traitor for opposing U.S. policy in the Philippines, derided what he called “monarchical patriotism.” The old royal idea that “the king can do no wrong,” Clemens reported with disgust, had been changed to “our country, right or wrong.”

      . . .This raises anew the question of what modern patriotism means. Was it patriotic for the White House to instruct the EPA to put out a press release after 9/11 saying the air around Ground Zero was safe when there was no evidence for it? Was it patriotic to invade Iraq when there was no sign of an imminent threat and plenty to suggest that it would seriously detract from the war on Al Qaeda? Was it patriotic for the White House to allow American companies that reap millions in contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to incorporate in Bermuda in order to avoid paying taxes?

      Perhaps most important, is it patriotic to define patriotism the old-fashioned way—as a kind of narrow nationalism? That jingoistic definition is carrying a price for the president, who must now go on bended knee to allies he so recently scorned. When you’re spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, dissing our friends, as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have done consistently, seems to be a tad … counter-productive. Those “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria are burning us now; those gibes that John Kerry “looks French” don’t look so clever.

      Maybe all that liberal talk about involving the United Nations wasn’t so squishy and unpatriotic after all, if one believes it’s now a good idea to lose less in blood and treasure in Iraq. Maybe the true patriotism—the best nationalism—is enlightened internationalism, just as presidents from both parties have believed since World War II. Maybe Britney Spears and millions of Mark Twain’s other “monarchical patriots” can learn to trust in that, too. Or at least offer some respect to those who disagree.