Friday, July 02, 2004

On patriotism

Okay, so I’ve gotten used to being called an unpatriotic, America-hating traitor by many loveable puffballs of the Wacko Right. It doesn’t bother me because, let’s face it, I know for a fact it’s not true. But in honor of July 4th and Independence Day and fireworks and apple pie, let’s talk about the patriotism thing.

I heart my country. America is a wonderful place to be. In my country, I can vote, live on my own, choose whom I want to marry, dye my hair all crazy-like, acquire birth control without hassle, watch soap operas in two languages, surf the Internet for porn, express my political views, travel freely, listen to punk rock, adopt a child, read books with naughty words in them, wear tank tops, join the military – or choose not to do any of these things. I can’t think of a single other country that offers so many freedoms while also providing the security of a kick-ass military and a government structure that, as long as we don’t screw it up like we’ve been doing lately, protects the rights of the people.

And all of that means that America is absolutely perfect and nothing should be changed – except wait, no, that’s not what it means at all. Because nothing is perfect; there are always steps that can be taken to improve upon the status quo. America is great – I happen to think it would be even greater if homosexual marriages and/or civil unions were recognized by the federal government. America is swell – and would be sweller still if the Religious Right would stop trying to break down the barrier separating church and state and forcing a particular form of religion on folks who have their own way, thanks. There could be more money spent on education and less on corporate safety nets. John Ashcroft still stands way too close to our civil rights for my comfort. And I just plain don’t think we should have invaded Iraq the way we did.

But don’t you think I’m leaving. Because I love America.

Most people know that there are all kinds of love; that’s nothing new. For some, patriotism is love like the second month of a new relationship. It’s not infatuation, you’ve had time to actually get to know a person and love him for the qualities that make him who he is, but when he pisses you off, you don’t say anything because you don’t want to rock the boat. Yeah, you wish he wouldn’t smoke so much, and he drives way too fast, but in the interest of domestic tranquility, you’re going to leave it be.

For me, patriotism is the love a mother feels for her child. It’s deep and sincere and absolutely unconditional. She’ll do anything, give anything, even her life, for her kid. She protects and defends and supports her kid and does her best to guide him to become the best adult he can possibly be. And part of that love involves correcting him when he goes wrong. Sometimes it’s benign, helping him with his homework or changing his grip on the football. Sometimes, it’s a lot more serious. Sometimes, a child runs into the street in front of a car, and when Mom snatches him back, he’s getting a whack on the behind that will remind him not to do it again. Does it mean that she doesn’t love him? Of course not. She loves him enough that she doesn’t want to see him dead, and if takes a little sting to get the message across, so be it. He smokes, and he drives way too fast, and she’s going to put a stop to that before he hurts himself.

When I see America running out into the street, you can be damn sure I’m going to snatch her back. When I see our leaders abusing their powers and infringing on the rights given to us by the Constitution and all those institutions that support it, I’m going to speak up. To not speak against the USA PATRIOT act or the invasion of Iraq or the abuse of our environment by industry or the coddling of corporations by legislators getting kickbacks, to see all of that and stay quiet, would be criminally negligent. I’m not about to let my country head in the wrong direction – I love America, so by God I’m holding her to a higher standard.

Conservatives out there love to throw around the phrase “America, right or wrong.” Works for me. It’s a great quote. It’s by a Navy commander named Stephen Decatur, and the entire quote says, “America, right or wrong. When right, to keep right. When wrong, to make right.” Anyone who really loves America wants her to be right. And if you think she’s already as perfect as she can be, I’m happy for you. I happen to see room for improvement. And because I love her so very, very much, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to see her reach her full potential. Anything less would be unpatriotic.

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