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Questioning Obama’s Patriotism?

For years, at least since Michael Dukakis ran for President, Democrats have been complaining that Republicans are questioning their patriotism. For the most part, this is simply clever demagoguery. Questioning someone’s patriotism does not sit well with voters, and hence it is useful to play the victim card.

But all this does raise a question: is there something to the charges? As I understand liberalism, it does not believe in patriotism. The reason why liberals always wish to build international institutions like the UN and th World Court, and the reason why liberal lawyers believe in applying internationally popular laws to America is because liberalism is an ideology that wishes to transcend the nation-state. Liberals wish to create a world in which patriotism is not necessary. In that sense, liberals don’t believe in partiotism. To the degree that they love America, it is because they see America as a vehicle for furthering that vision.

Conservatives, by contrast, believe that we are, of necessity, stuck with a world of particular nations and balance of power. Hence patriotism can be a good. We believe that our nation is particularly good, and hence particularly deserving of love. I suspect this is what they mean when they suggest that conservatives are mean-spirited and divisive. They are blaming the messenger. Human nature ain’t what liberals think it is. The hatred we have seen in the Left, since it was invented during the French Revolution, is the result of reality clashing with their hopes for universal peace, harmony, and brotherhood. It is what happens when a vision of the future crosses the fine line between idealism and misanthropy.

Discussions - 16 Comments

It was Hillary's team who observed that Obama suffered from, what they termed, an "American deficit." They mulled working that angle, but eventually decided to forego it, not because they didn't think it would work, but because it raised problems trying to work such an angle in the Democrat primaries.

When you say that conservatives believe they are stuck in a world of particular nations, that is not what I hear from the conservatives I know, or from most on this blog. From them I hear that they are in sole possession of history-less absolutes, complete with God’s blessing. Hence only americans truly deserve their patriotism, but it is to be denied others, because those others lack the truth. This blog has featured un-ending contempt for any other country’s patriotism, such as Canada’s or France’s. So the conservative wants it both ways: they want to condemn any other patriot’s fervor in the face of American exceptionalism, for only we can be truly patriotic; and they want to fend of criticisms of that by claiming that their opponents play the victim card. It is like saying only I love my mother, and I condemn the right of anyone else to say they love their mother as much as I do mine. Calling that irrationality is not clever demagoguery.

Can you give any examples of someone on this blog criticising another country's patriotism?

Richard, don't you think your selling the Dems short and giving the Repubs too much credit? You're probably right about "liberals" and "conservatives," but we all know the parties aren't that different...they're basically center left (Democrats) and right (Republicans).

I'd say they're equally patriotic.

From the first paragraph and the second paragraph's second sentence, I predicted that this would just be a hater-ific blog post.

It's actually quite good.

Ken, I'm not sure you are being totally fair to mainstream liberals (to include Obama). From my experience, they love this country and to a large extent they love it because it is theirs. But the the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and the critques of the New Left have caused them to be ambivalent at the same time. They can't wholeheartedly celebrate the American past because it feels like an insult to African Americans (and Native Americans and...), and they are suspicious of American foreign policy because they feel that it has often been stupid or imperialistic in the past. Yes they love their country just the same, but with less pride and more shame than many conservatives. It is also why many liberals become exasperated by "flag waving" but are indifferent to "God damn America"

It is worth pointing out that there is much to be ashamed of in the American past. Post sixities liberals err too much in the direction of shame. This sometimes comes across as a desire to escape America's historical guilt by seeking to transcend America through a global community. But conservatives would do better to better remember the times America has failed to live up to its best principles - which as conservatives should also be our principles.

Pete is a good and generous man, in his response to the original post.

As I understand liberalism, it does not believe in patriotism.

You don't, and they do.


This post reads as though you are trying to describe a species that you have observed from your hovering space ship, and not people that you might have walked and talked with.

Liberalism does not believe in patriotism? Liberals always wish to build international institutions....?

I can tell you why many (not all) liberals associate conservativism with mean-spiritedness and divisive tactics. It is because of the prominence of mean-spirited, divisive locutions, such as "Pro-America and Anti-America," or calling Obama a socialist for daring to ease the tax burden on the Middle Class, or the way that the term "liberal," itself is used as an epithet. I recall clearly when GWB told the world: "If you are not with us, then you are against us," and he was cheered on by many on this blog.

Most (not all) liberals understand that we can love our country, just as we can love a person, with our eyes open to both strengths and weaknesses.

To profess a love of country while failing to allow acknowledgment of its weakness is dangerous, short-sighted, and a strange kind of love. It suggests that any weaknesses that exist will continue, since they must be perceived in order to be remedied. It suggests that international competition must be handicapped, since competitors' strengths must not be recognized, and therefore cannot be countered.

Perhaps conservatives, or perhaps just you, don't understand that the acknowledgment of imperfection, error, or misdirection can occur without blame, shame, and name-calling. In fact, they must occur in order to prevent history repeating its worst errors.

Here's Al Gore: "Rousseau said the body politic is a moral being possessed of a will. He was thinking on the national level. We need to take it to the international one. We need to make the leap from nationhood to a sense of identity that is truly global, but that embodies Rousseau's point."

And Strobe Talbott: ""nationhood as we know it will be obsolete [and]...all states will recognize a single, global authority." Quoted here. They reflect an important element of liberal thought.

Okay, so that addresses the point that I did not make, but fair enough.

I agree with you that liberals have more faith in, and value to a greater extent, transnational unity and cooperation than most conservatives do. For instance, liberals were much more reluctant to invade Iraq alone, and without the cooperation of the U.N., than conservatives were.

On the other hand, liberals and conservatives alike are suffering from the effects of NAFTA, and our choices include: escalating international competition or rivalry, excalating international cooperation, and witdrawal. Another option might be to continue doing what we are doing, and hope for different results.

In all cases, war, global policing, and commerce, to ratchet up the rivalry and aggression works only in the short run, unless we remain the smartest, best informed, and strongest player in the game. A blind belief in our superiority will prove a poor substitute for real superiority, and will invite our opponents and enemies to identify and target new Achilles' heels and soft underbelly.

I have no use at all for the establishment of global authority, but global cooperation strikes me as much cheaper, more efficient, more humane, and more productive. I don't think that I am the only liberal to think this way.

Fung. This comment, "global cooperation strikes me as much cheaper, more efficient, more humane, and more productive" gets near the heart of the matter. Conservaties think that such cooperation is rather less likely than liberals do. That has implications for how each team thinks the US should relate to other countries, and, ultimately, about whether the virtue of patriotism.


I agree with you, right up to the part about the virtue of patriotism. I think the disagreement is about the quality of patriotism, and not about whether it is a good thing, and not about how good a thing it is.

Instead, I think that the disagreement is about a patriotism that cannot tolerate expressions of criticism and of need for improvement, vs a patriotism that finds such expression both a right and a responsibility.

Richard, one things conservatives need to keep in mind about liberals is that most liberals are much more comfortable with the idea that the nation-state is transitional than most conservatives. But they still love the country in their guts. Thats why the indignation at anything that "questions their patriotism" is sincere as well as politic. Some on the left truly hate the US of course (Wright, Ayers, Howard Zinn), but most liberals don't. A better formulation might be that their form of patriotism is deeply flawed or even dangerous, but it really is love of country.

Pete - What does this mean?

. . .deeply flawed or even dangerous.

Deeply flawed - many post 60s liberals are quick to meet critics of the US farther than halfway or to be silent in the face of their country being libeled - until the political cost of being silent becomes prohibitive. In this, Obama is also an offender. Would those same liberals be as mute if white supremacy rather than anti Americanism that was being spouted?

Even dangerous - the desire to apply international law to situations where it might not be effective (rogue states with sponsors among the major powers)or to selectivly apply foreign laws to the US is dangerous as both foreign and domestic policy. Both are misapplications of the desire to fit the US under a regime of international law. It should go without saying that most of these liberals believe that doing so will make the US safer and more just.

But the key point (and it is hard for conservatives who don't know many liberals to understand) that these feelings coincide with a deeply felt love of country. They know they feel it and get furious when someone denies or seems to deny it.

In fact there is something deeply conservative (in the European sense) of how many liberals love this country. For them, they love the people, and their experiences here, and the everyday good things in their lives. They also hate many things about American history and current political culture, but they endure in their love.

By comparison, conservatives have it easy. We can identify America with our own free market, morally traditionalist, natural rights, limited government ideology. We can love America becuase it seems so conservative. Liberals can love America even though it seems so much less conservative than so many other places. when liberals bring up France (or some other country) as a model for the US, conservatives get angry. They feel like it is disloyalty. "Why don't you liberals move there?" Because they love our country.

I meant to write "Liberals can love America even though it seems so much less liberal than so many other places...

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