Saturday, July 12, 2008

With Soul So Dead

If you want to know what people think, ask. They may tell you. A recent poll wondered if Barack Obama and John McCain were patriotic enough to be President. No, 25 percent said of Obama, 9 percent no for McCain, a grand total of 34 percent, over one-third, signifying sound and fury.

Time Magazine featured a discussion of patriotism in its Fourth of July issue, including invited statements from both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain. Time explained two versions of patriotism, conservative and liberal. Hey, it’s only journalism. According to Time, “Conservatives think patriotism is a tribute to the past. Liberals believe it’s a key to the future.” McCain wrote, “If you find fault with your country, make it a better one. If you are disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks, and work to correct them. I hope more Americans would consider enlisting in our armed forces… running for public office or working in federal, state and local governments. But there are many public causes where your service can make our country a stronger, better one than we inherited.” Obama offered, “The true genius of America—a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles…that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm; that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution; and that our votes will be counted.”

Sen. Obama further addressed the subject of patriotism in a speech delivered in Independence, Mo., just before July 4. He paid homage to the patriots at Concord and Lexington but also Martin Luther King, Jr., the freedom riders, and the whistleblowers at Abu Ghraib. “Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for President. And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged - at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.”

“But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism,” Obama said. He explained his “loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories... sitting on my grandfather's shoulders and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii… the cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do... my grandmother telling stories about her work on a bomber assembly-line during World War II... my grandfather handing me his dog-tags from his time in Patton's Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride.” Quoting Mark Twain, Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it, Obama adds, “But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.”

Sometimes people confuse patriotism with political partisanship, militarism or jingoism. Not just my country right or wrong, but my country is never wrong or I’m never wrong. However, patriotism comes in more than just one flavor, or even two. Think Baskin-Robbins. But mainly don’t think you get to tell me if my patriotism is good enough. I love it about America that Walt Whitman loved Abraham Lincoln and that e e cummings sang of Olaf glad and big, who would not “kiss your f…ing flag.”

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter

5 comments:

No spring chicken said...

Not to neglect the subject of patriotism, but I have to salute you for knowing both big olaf, AND The Lay of the Last Minstrel!!

Tina said...

Most of us manage to love our country, warts and all...we'd just like fewer warts.

Paw Paw Bill said...

I sometimes include in my blog things that I have found by research and that are new to me. However, I discovered poetry about the same time as baseball, at age nine or ten. I do not have to look it up to know that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs or quote, "Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself hath said this is my own, my native land." There are some things the passing years will not steal from us. I remember when I found the book of poems unguarded on the shelf in my fourth grade classroom believing these magical things must the writings of royalty and religious figures: Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Edna St. Vincent Millay. I still am inclined to pay more attention to what poets say than politicians, even about patriotism.

Anonymous said...

The "National Museum of Patriotism" is located in Atlanta. Funny -- their website doesn't try to define patriotism ...

They are in a nondescript location on Spring St (near the Buford Connector), but I noticed on my bike commute this morning that they are moving to a spot downtown across Luckie street from the Aquarium.

- Rob Butera

Paw Paw Bill said...

I know both locations you mention and have certainly noted the National Museum of Patriotism across the street from the old Spring Street School. To their credit if they do not try to define patriotism but rather to celebrate and showcase it.

 

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