So Peggy Noonan wants to have a discussion about Barack Obama's patriotism.
"Snooty lefties get angry when you ask them to talk about these things. They get resentful. Who are you to question my patriotism? But no one is questioning his patriotism, they're questioning its content, its fullness."One can't help but get the sense that Noonan wants to debate the meaning of the word "is" here. The right wing's "patriotism dialogue" has become trite and sometimes dangerous. It oftentimes bores me. It's coarse and accusatory from Rush Limbaugh. It's lowbrow and free of thought from Bill O'Reilly.
But no one fills it with pretense quite like Peggy Noonan. Then again Peggy Noonan could probably find a way to make Pabst Blue Ribbon, a hoagie and NASCAR sound pretentious. And I just got done reading an essay critiquing deconstructionist architecture. So you would think that my tolerance for pretense would be on high right now. Nevertheless…
When this talk of Obama’s supposed elitism started I had an interesting discussion with my speech class about it. One of the things that came up was the contradiction of one politician accusing another of being elitist. “Aren’t they all kind of elitist? If you’re a Senator you’re not exactly an ‘Average Joe.’” Coincidentally we had been discussing red herrings and rhetoric the week before. “Aren’t there more important things to debate than what Barack Obama wears on his lapel?”
What Noonan’s column and this on going discussion about lapel pins and hands on hearts really got me thinking about was how differently the two political polls express patriotism. Noonan seems to imply that liberals find patriotism to be distasteful somehow. Of course it’s politically convenient for her to imply such a thing even if she doesn’t believe it. And that’s the big difference in how patriotism is expressed by liberals and conservatives. You won’t see many liberals impugn the patriotism of conservatives for the sake of scoring political points.
I’m reminded of a visit to Abilene, Texas a couple years ago. I drove around the town with my friend who lived down there and everywhere I looked I saw the American flag. The problem is that it wasn’t just on flagpoles. It was on everything. Painted on walls, minivan decals, it was a tool of commerce. And this is what I find to be offensive about the cultural conservative patriotism. It’s not an emotion, or a loyalty to nation or an ideal.
Patriotism is a tool: a tool of politics, a tool of propaganda, and a tool of commerce.
Patriotism elects presidents; incompetent presidents. Patriotism sells cars. Patriotism publicizes cable news networks. Patriotism propagates wars.
I think the commerce is what is most offensive. My friend and I drove past car dealerships and mini marts all with the word “freedom” or “liberty” in the name and an American flag in the logo. Do you really need to tell me that you love America in order to sell me a car? Can you just tell me about the gas mileage?
Then again, this could be a cultural difference in how one addresses others and expresses his or her feelings to them. When I’m at a ballgame and I see two guys chatting the through the entire national anthem my desire is to walk over and at least give them a piece of my mind if not smack them upside the head. When I see someone flying an old and worn American flag my desire is to pull into their driveway and give them the rundown on proper care and disposal of the flag. However, doing so wouldn’t make me more patriotic, it would just make me a jerk. Questioning a candidate on why they don’t wear the flag on their lapel is the same. It makes you a jerk, not more patriotic.
The again, maybe I’m just a “snooty leftie.”