The True Patriot, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.
Clerk: There's no such thing as a bloody cat license.
Praline: Yes there is!
Praline: I bleeding got one, look! What's that then?
Clerk: This is a dog license with the word 'dog' crossed out and 'cat' written in in crayon.
(Eric the Half Bee, Monty Python)
This is a book of liberal pieties with the words “Liberal Pieties” crossed out and the words “True Patriot” written in in crayon.
After I rejected this book on the basis its dishonest
author bios, and
I was challenged by a progressive to actually read the pamphlet. As is common in such situations, there is the idea that a book with obvious flaws in its basic approach is going to somehow reveal itself to be balanced and tightly-argued if examined in detail.
I am not sure I am glad I read it, but I did learn something worth knowing: True Patriot is even worse than I imagined. From the table of contents I expected that the book contained extended, if artfully chosen, writings of famous Americans, interspersed with snippets of commentary by the authors. In fact, it contains extended writings by the authors, interspersed with artfully-chosen snippets by famous Americans.
The book exists to feed progressive self-righteousness and for no other reason. The authors are undoubtedly sincere in believing that they are exploring a neglected side of patriotism, which they believe to be more important. They seem earnest and well-meaning in many ways. But they have completely misunderstood the more traditional meaning of patriotism, and are able to refer to it only in caricature.
Unfortunately, in too many quarters patriotism is understood to celebrate might for its own sake, power as its own end. Patriotism has become a cheap brand, a soundtrack and package of graphics signaling complacent conformity: wave your flag, but don’t rock the boat. Patriotism, to many Americans, signifies only empty swagger. It has been wrested by self-satisfied salesmen singing “You’re with us or against us.” It has been used to justify dubious acts of war-making and lawmaking. It has been stolen to silence dissent.
Is this dishonest or merely stupid? Who in America have they discovered celebrating might for its own sake? What political group is telling us to wave your flag but don’t rock the boat? Did they really not understand in context the anti-terrorism quote by President Bush, or do they understand it but pretend not to for rhetorical effect? Whose dissent has been silenced? Not theirs, certainly.
False patriots think that wearing little flags on their lapels is the full measure of their patriotic duty.
Huh? Do they know anyone like that? I suspect this is merely a poorly-disguised attempt to provide Obama with cover. Because merely wearing a pin is inadequate patriotism, therefore we can recognize true patriots by the fact that they don’t wear a flag pin. Sure, and real Christians wear no crosses, real feminists wear bustles, and real environmentalists drive muscle-cars that get 6 mpg.
False patriots say that the wealth of the wealthy is proof of their virtue.
Oh, I get it now. No one actually says those things, of course. That would be too obvious. But that is what those other guys really mean (We won’t mention them by name, but you know who we mean). Don’t bother to look up the arguments and positions of people you disagree with, just read their minds.
Let’s go back to the Introduction, the screaming tip-off that told me exactly where they were going to go:
Patriotism, as an idea, has been co-opted over the course of a generation by right-wingers who use the flag not as a symbol of transcendent national unity, but as a sectarian cudgel against the hippies, Francophiles, free-lovers, and tree-huggers, who constitute their caricature of the American left. The American left, for its part, has been so beaten down by this star-spangled caricature that it has largely ceded the notion of patriotism to the right. As a result, the first reaction of far too many progressives to any talk of patriotism is automatic, allergic recoil. Needless to say, this reaction simply tightens the screws of the right’s imprisoning caricature.
Well, they say if you remember the 60’s you weren’t there, and I fully admit the authors may have blown more dope than I did. But in what alternate universe was it that the right wing wrested the flag from the cold, dead fingers of liberals who clung to the “symbol of transcendent national unity” and wept bitter tears when it was taken from them.?
I wasn’t just an observer, jack. I was one of those clowns who sniggered at the flag. Prior to the 60’s, everyone did indeed claim the flag as their own, liberals, moderates, and conservatives, and flew it proudly. It was the left who flew it upside down, or burned it, or wore it only ironically in “Easy Rider.” Good Democrats of the day were appalled by these attacks on their flag. See Chicago, 1968, Democratic Convention, for example. The question of who-started-it may often be ambiguous and trivial, not worth pursuing. But who-started-it is sometimes the whole point, as in Belgium 1940, or OJ Simpson 1994. If Liu and Hanauer can bring this crapola into print even after editors have had a look at the manuscript, what other pink elephants might they be seeing?
I often vacillate in concluding whether high-profile liberals are deceptive or self-deceptive. Because most actual human beings of liberal persuasion I encounter seem no less genuine and upfront than the moderates, libertarians, unaligned, and conservatives I know, I usually lean to the view that they are self-deceptive, comfortably believing what is more pleasant because – well, who wouldn’t, given the choice? It’s the natural bent of humankind unless one fights against it.
But then books like this come out and become popular, lauded by people with Important Hair, and regarded with misty-eyed satisfaction. It is at that point I begin to doubt, and instead ask Are they trying to take us for rubes?
Forgot to mention – sorry. I recoil against such phrases as true patriot, true Christian, true American, whatever point-of-view they originate from. Such immodest claims strike me as protesting too much. Much better to follow CS Lewis, who entitled his summary of the faith Mere Christianity.
Now it can be revealed: the bios of the authors, Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.