Liberals Don’t Know What Patriotism Means


By: Warner Todd Huston

Some think it a canard that liberals aren’t patriotic. In some ways, it is a canard, but only just. Some liberals really do imagine themselves patriotic. But in what ever way liberals imagine they feel for their country, it doesn’t seem that patriotism is really what they feel. At least not in the way that patriotism is properly defined. There has been a spate of stories in the media since Obama’s election that serve to illustrate why liberals seem incapable of being patriotic.

But, first, what is patriotism?

After the War of 1812 one of our most celebrated sea captains, Stephen Decatur (America’s first post Revolutionary War military hero) once gave a toast at Norfolk to his fellow seamen that is the most perfect illustration of true patriotism. As he lifted his glass, Decatur said,
“Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”

“May she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” This reflects real patriotism. It isn’t my country IF I agree with everything she does. It isn’t my country IF I like the president or party in power. It isn’t my country IF I feel comfortable, am rich, or have personal power. There is an intrinsic value imparted to the nation whether it currently seems to be upholding what makes it worthy or not. It is my country whether I currently am comfortable with its policies and politicians or not.

For some nations, patriotism is defined because of its homogeneous racial or religious makeup. Sometimes it is a mere aspect of geography and longevity as a nation. The French love France because they are French. The English love England because it has a proud, defiant history of standing as one against all comers, etc., etc. As a matter of course, most peoples imagine that their patriotism is based on an assumption that their country has intrinsic value.

But the United States is a bit different in what its patriotism is based upon. It isn’t geography, a single religion, or mere history that Americans base their patriotism upon. The United States is one of the few nations that were created by design and not simply by time, religion, war or geography. The reason Americans feel patriotic for the USA is because of a belief in her national precepts: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, religious freedom, freedom of speech, the national republican system, and a reliance on capitalist self-determination.

And Americans don’t just have some gauzy belief in phrases, either, but feel that there is true meaning behind them as designed by the Founding Fathers. The fact that God created our rights, that government cannot take them away, that a man can be secure in his life and property, and that these are rights of all men, not just Americans… these ideas give our nation and patriotism intrinsic worth.

But, regardless of exactly what the locus of patriotism is, the central theme is that one loves his country no matter its errors. Warts and all, the country is believed in. Right or wrong.

None of this is meant to excuse mistakes, or even crimes, by papering them over with the flag. In a democratic nation, a chief freedom is to be able to bring redress to one’s own nation, to petition government, to criticize its actions, and to correct mistakes by the vote of its people. But, through all strife and political debate there has to be an assumption that the surgeon is being called because the patient to be cured, in this case a nation, is worth the valiant, life-saving effort. The nation must be worthy for anyone to bother.

So, if we Americans truly believe in our national precepts, our national soul, then it shouldn’t matter who is in the White House or what party controls Congress. And this is where liberals fail the test of patriotism. Like the starry eyed bride, liberals are more in love with the idea of being in love than they are in what that love is applied to. Like the bride that married her man for what she thinks she can turn him into, liberals love what they want the USA to become, not what it is.

You simply cannot love something that you want to change so materially that it would be unrecognizable afterwards. And this is how liberals feel. They dislike America’s true ideas and only want to use the gauzy phrases to paper over the massive changes they want to make. And unless they get their way, America is not worth loving whether it is currently right or wrong.

One might recall, for instance, during the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, actor Ron Silver was absurdly self-satisfied to realize that the military jets flying above the capitol were suddenly allowed to be defined as “our jets now.” At the time, Silver didn’t consider the U.S. military as “his” merely because his party did not have a commander in chief in the White House. Before Clinton came to office he didn’t approve of then current policy so he did not consider the government or military of the United States to be “his.” But, lo and behold, once Clinton took office, why he felt like an American. This is not patriotism.

Recently, as Obama ran for the White House, his own wife let slip that she was never proud of her country until her husband looked to be a viable candidate for the presidency. In a wider sampling, now that Barack Obama has won the office, there have been quite a few stories in the media that proclaim that it is now OK to be an American. There have been stories that have miraculously found that with Obama’s victory liberals have seen the winds of patriotism renewed, and some have even found that they are finally be proud to be an American. Still others have said that they are at last proud to tell foreigners they are Americans. In fact, the Seattle Post Intelligencer was so shocked to see liberals finally wishing to fly the flag that it felt it had to print a guide on how to respectfully display the flag because it was so sure none of its readers were familiar with the rules.

What we see in these examples are Americans that feel that America is not living up to what they thought America should be, and happy to see that it might just become what they want. This, in itself, does not necessarily preclude patriotism. Practically every politically aware American feels that America is in some way not living up to its potential or principles. After all, why keep seeking power if you don’t think things need to change?

But a closer observation of the examples I provide will prove that these people are not just saying America has improvements to make or are satisfied that they are now being made. What they are really saying is that they didn’t even feel they were Americans because their political ideals were not winning the national debate and their political leaders were not in charge. Further, when their leaders did get in charge, there was a sudden about face on the feeling of being American. When Clinton took office, when Obama won the 2008 election, these people suddenly imagined themselves proud to be Americans. Instantaneous patriotism based upon partisan political success is not patriotism.

It’s fine to be mad at the president or Congress. It’s fine to be upset with policy, too. But to disown the country because your leaders are not winning elections? That isn’t patriotism. Sadly, the truth is that unless they are in charge, few liberals feel disposed to claim to be Americans. As a result, their sunshine patriotism isn’t patriotism at all.

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