Editorial: What makes a patriot?
It sometimes seems that every time we take a step forward in this country, we take two more back.
It's the former when, for the first time in the nation's history, millions of Americans vote for a talented man of color to represent their party in an election about who will lead them. It's the latter when that same candidate clears that giant hurdle only to find another, silly one in his path: doubts about his patriotism.
That's what compelled presumptive Democrat nominee Barack Obama to stand up in Independence, Mo., just before Independence Day- he does have a flair for symbolism - to share his definitions of patriotism.
Obama's patriotism - or Republican John McCain's, for that matter - should be a non-issue. Like the sun rising in the east, it goes without saying that anyone who chooses to run this gauntlet loves his country. No one seriously seeks the Oval Office because the pay is great compared to every other profession, or because dealing with us media types is such a joy, or because he or she revels in the pressure of making life-and-death decisions for others, or because sacrificing your family's privacy or even risking your safety is such darn fun.
In many ways this patriotism issue is a smoke screen for people of other prejudices who are of sufficient IQ to realize they don't quite jibe with that "all men are created equal" clause in the Declaration of Independence. Among them would be those folks who betray their own deficiencies, not Obama's, by playing up his middle name of "Hussein," as if he gave it to himself. Seriously.
Indeed, the focus ought to be less on whether Obama or McCain are patriots than whether we as rank-and-file Americans are true to that calling.
Indeed, does wearing a flag pin make you a patriot? How about plastering "I support the troops" ribbons on your car? Is your idea of doing your duty during wartime spending your stimulus check shopping at the mall? Can you be a patriot if you don't vote, if you don't participate in the most fundamental responsibility of citizenship in what Obama's "gut instinct" tells him is "the greatest country on Earth"? Way too many Americans who fancy themselves "patriots" set that bar way too low.
Are you unpatriotic if you disagree with whoever occupies the White House at any given time? Do Democrats critical of George W. Bush not care for their country? If so, were Republicans who never took a shine to Bill Clinton haters of America, as well? "Dissent does not make one unpatriotic," Obama said this week. "Surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism."
Ever uttered "love it or leave it" when someone says something about America with which you disagree? Arguably anybody who mouths that mantra is no patriot, as obviously that person misunderstands the essence and origin of this nation, forged not through preservation of the status quo but through revolution.
Quick, recite the Bill of Rights.
"Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country's name, insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution - these are the acts of patriots ... defending that which is best in America," said Obama. That which is best, that which distinguishes us, are the ideas expressed in that document.
"For me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map ... I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideas, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America.
"For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular community, without even a father's steadying hand, it is this essential American idea - that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will - that has defined my life." What in that concept is unacceptable to a patriot?
What colors are you flying if you don't march in lockstep with the Oval Office on the war in Iraq? "Patriotism involves not only defending this country against external threat, but also working constantly to make America a better place for future generations," said Obama. Are you a patriot, then, if you support candidates who run up debt like there's no tomorrow, who refuse to take the necessary steps toward energy independence, who protect the nation against attack but disregard the Constitution in doing so?
Again Obama has proven himself a unique candidate who tackles difficult subjects - religion, fatherhood, now patriotism. His speeches are part tutorial, part get-to-know-me, part soul-searching exercise. Persuading Americans to think about who they are and what they stand for - and reconciling the two - may be his greatest gift. He's right, "true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated ... It must reside in the hearts of our people, and be cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children."
Ultimately, we are quite confident that both major party candidates bleed red, white and blue. Can we move on to the real issues now?
Peoria Journal Star