Sunday, February 24, 2008

What is patriotism?

When I lived in Germany, my downstairs neighbor was a fellow American, en ex-marine with a lovely, if somewhat dysfunctional family. A good guy. A solid Democrat too (surprise, they exist in the Military). He thought, when I first described myself as an Expatriate, that I meant "ex-Patriot", like he was an "ex-Marine". I guess somehow he wasn't familiar with that word. He thought I meant I no longer loved my country. It took months to clear up that misunderstanding, since later he wasn't very interested in talking to me. It's funny how, with such an emotionally charged issue, a simple statement can easily be turned into its opposite.

The right wing (aided by a network purchased for this purpose) is spreading the idea that Barack Obama is "unpatriotic". This transparent idiocy has now been picked up by the "serious" media. So what?

Do outward signs of patriotism make you a patriot? I say no. Wearing a lapel pin, or putting a magnetic sticker on your car is no evidence of patriotism. Instead it shows a sort of false patriotism, that completely ignores the principles on which our country was founded. Reverence for or worship of the flag is not the same as reverence for America. America, first and foremost, is not a flag, nor a particular piece of geography. Both have changed over the course of our history. America is a constitution. The Constitution is not a symbol, nor is it a place, it is what creates America, it defines America. Civics lessons aside, the Constitution is the only thing that distinguishes us from other countries, all of which have flags and Homelands, similar in nature to ours. Elected officials and soldiers do not swear an oath to the Homeland, to the flag, to the President or to the people. Those types of loyalty oaths are not the province of democracies. It's for good reason that an oath of office is to protect and defend the Constitution that has nothing to do with symbolism.

Therefore it is not necessary to wear a lapel pin to be a patriot. Nor is it necessary to have a magnetic ribbon sticker on your car. Nor is it necessary to say the Pledge of Allegiance (a recent invention that would have horrified the founding fathers). It's what lies behind the lapel pin that counts. And those who require the lapel pin, but are bigoted, who require the lapel pin as a sign of blind obediance, who require the lapel pin but accept the weakening of our constitution in the name of "security", these people are not patriots.

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