I I I I I I I  

Of Patriots 

Around Independence Day -- the time for barbecue, fireworks, and
flag-waving -- I experience the same disconnect every year.  I'm not going to turn down an excuse to eat hotdogs and play with pyrotechnics, but I'm a little unclear on what red white and blue paper napkins have to do with American values.  (I have a similar problem on Memorial Day, when I can't figure out how White Sales honor those killed in battle).  An annual tea-dump might make more sense to me, but then my benchmark for a fourth of July celebration is the Bicentennial; I was five-years-old in 1976, and I'll forever associate periwigs and breeches with independence.

I took one of those internet quizzes today and it rated me 38% American, based on the fact that I despise guns, Applebee's and American beer, and like dissent, brie and liberal social values.  It's good to know that the founding fathers' ideals are still appreciated in the good old U. S. of A.  (If Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were alive today, they might be card carrying members of the NRA, but I somehow doubt they'd be drinking Coors and "eatin' good in the neighborhood").

The funny thing is that, although many conservatives would disagree, I consider myself a patriot.  Yeah, I cringe at the narrow-minded jingoism encapsulated in Lee Greenwood singing "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free," but I'm an Air Force brat with an immense admiration for the men and women who’ve served in the Armed Forces.  I have an anti-Bush bumper sticker on my car, but I've taught my children that we have to respect the office of the president, even when we don't have much respect for the man who holds that office. Whether or not I support our government's policies, I still believe in liberty and justice for all, and I'm a big fan of the democratic process (I take advantage of every opportunity to cast my vote, whether it's for president or dog catcher).  I can even agree with "my country right or wrong," so long as it includes Senator Carl Schurz's addition "if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right."

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My feelings about America are like my feelings about my family.  I love my heritage and my family is important to me because it's mine.  But that doesn't blind me to its faults, or lead me to believe that members of my family are inherently better than anyone else.  It's the same with national ties -- I'm proud to be an American in the same way I'm proud to be a Lipscomb (and a Grimes), because it's part of who I am.  But I don't operate under the delusion that America is better than every other country, or that to be an American makes me superior to citizens of other nations.

Conservatives love to claim that liberals hate America, but even they know that's not true.  (If the folks who spent eight years bashing Clinton don't understand that you can criticize the president and still love your country, then nobody does).  Disillusionment is not the same as hatred.  Liberals expect more of our country than dubious election results, wars built on lies, and torture.  We expect our government to work for freedom and justice at home and abroad, not ally itself with dictators and tyrants in order to advance our goals.

At some point, if we continue to betray our country's ideals to protect our national interests, then we will no longer be a country worth protecting.  But for some Americans, the symbol has become the substance.  Democracy and equality are forgotten -- all that matters is who has the biggest flag on his pick-up truck.  When I read the Declaration of Independence, I'm reminded that the founding fathers subscribed to some pretty radical notions.  I can't help but wonder if conservatives would be entirely comfortable with that bunch of atheist and deist rabble rousers.  It's like those ill-informed Christians who are stunned to discover (or refuse to believe) that Jesus was a Jew. Conservatives purport to believe in America, and yet I suspect that many of them would be appalled by the men who first imagined it.

I'm not going to mince words here.  If you think that dirty politics is justifiable so long as your guy wins, you're not a patriot.  If you believe that your faith should be established as a state religion, and your sacraments and traditions should be forced on all Americans, you're not a patriot.  If you think that the president is always right, that it's worth it to exchange a few of our civil liberties for some amorphous sense of safety, and that burning the flag is worse than eviscerating the constitution, you're not a patriot, you're an idiot. Dissent is the core American value, and, although it's not unique to the United States, there are still many countries in which citizens are forbidden to protest or question their governments' policies.  If you would prefer to do without freedom of speech, I suggest that you move to one of those countries, rather than trying to import those values to the United States. 
About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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