After listening to the president’s State of the Union Address I was overcome by a desire to reexamine the question: what is patriotism?
The easy answer suggests patriotism is simply love for one’s country. If, however, patriotism is reduced to adorning flags on my house, suit lapel, or radio antenna, while granting the present administration carte blanche to offer retroactive reasoning for going to war in Iraq, then I probably do not qualify.
In his State of the Union address, the president defiantly defended the lack of WMD by saying, “Already the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.” After the “axis of evil” in 2002 and last year’s infamous 16 words in the State of the Union address, the best the president could come up with is “dozens of weapons of mass destruction related program activities”?
The president went on to say: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.” The fact that America does not require a permission slip to defend itself should not be equated with one forging a parent signature in order to skip the leadership final exam.
Tough, meet-me-at-high-noon rhetoric cannot dismiss Secretary of State Colin Powell finally conceding that there was no smoking gun linking Saddam to al Qaeda or the statements by the now former head of the US weapons inspection team, David Kay, that he did not believe there were any weapons stockpiles.
Even the impressive list of countries presented by the president as part of the “coalition of the willing” wilts under the weight of knowing the United States carries the burden of $200 billion and more than 500 casualties.
With the possible exception of those who have seemingly pledged a blood oath allegiance to the hawkish policies authored by neo-cons such as David Frum, Richard Perle, and Bill Kristol, it almost requires the dismissal of patriotism not to question the reasons for war given the facts. But somehow politics manages to conveniently commingle itself with patriotism. Neat, innocuous phrases make for effective bumper stickers as a way to demonstrate one’s loyalties.
We have become so divisive as a nation, beholden to our political parties of self-righteousness that we are unable to place love of country ahead of Democrat and Republican. Republicans are unable to look objectively at how this administration may have needlessly and recklessly taken the country to war any more than I fear Democrats would, had it been their figurehead occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
If patriotism is indeed love of country, then its definition must include its people: all of its people. Patriotism is not exclusively acknowledging the heroics of our armed forces at the State of the Union Address while failing to recognize the millions whose unemployment benefits did not last as long as their ongoing job search. Patriotism is not a political tool to be used in conjunction with wedge issues to stir the emotions of ordinary citizens, enacting economic policies that primarily benefit major campaign contributors or demanding that only low-income families make sacrifices during times of war.
Love and concern for the country, including its people, is the patriotic responsibility of every American. It is not enough to link patriotism to consistent voter participation or staying abreast of current issues. The individual must place his or her patriotism beyond the ultimate sphere of political affiliation. The understandable fear that permeates this country can never be a justifiable reason to abdicate our patriotism for the perceived safety of demagoguery.
If indeed the Bush Administration exaggerated the evidence that led to war, as the facts seem to indicate, and Democrats, Republicans, and independents are unwilling to hold them accountable, we can rest assured that however one defines patriotism, its application will fit easily within the contours of any bumper sticker.
Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byronspeaks.com. Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church.
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