Patriotism: this, in a word, is what the Republicans want to use against Obama if he is the Democratic nominee. You can hear it over and over again, from conservative pundits like Mona Charen, the McCain campaign, and, unfortunately, Hillary and Bill Clinton. The idea that Obama is not patriotic is the key talking point of his opponents. It’s the theme that knits together the Reverend Wright attack, the Michelle Obama gaffe (saying she is proud of her country “for the first time”), and the outright lies about Obama being a Muslim, being sworn in on the Koran, and refusing to put his hand on his heart for the pledge of allegiance.
You could hear the glee in the voice of a local rightwinger who told me recently that McCain has the patriotism brand all wrapped up.
I attribute some of that bubbly feeling to the psychic relief among Republicans over a candidate who is a former POW. How good it must feel to be rid of the shame of this chickenhawk Administration. I’d embrace McCain, too, if my party had sent two draft-dodgers to the White House to kill 4,000 U.S. soldiers, sink us in an interminable civil war, and then make comments shrugging off the soldiers’ deaths (Cheney) and telling troops in Afghanistan how “romantic” their mission is (Bush) and how much he wishes he could be there (instead of dodging service in Vietnam and sending others to die in Iraq).
The question in the next election is whether this Administration has done enough damage that Americans are sick of being manipulated by the flag.
My bet is that, minus a nation-binding crisis like 9-11, people aren’t buying the blind patriotism gambit.
People are worried about their mortgages, sick of the war in Iraq, and disinclined to be really fired up about terrorism, unless it hits them where they live again.
McCain offers no solutions to the bread-and-butter problems of the mortgage and credit crises or the looming economic collapse. Even worse than Bush, he actually calls for less regulation on Wall Street.
No wonder the Republicans would rather talk about patriotism.
The hope Obama embodies is that cooler heads can prevail.
In his response to the Reverend Wright scandal, Obama confronted the kind of simple-minded rhetoric that tries to push people into an us-versus-them crouch. His subject was race, but his theme also applies to the idea of American patriotism. Can we embrace the ideals of a nation founded on tolerating divergent beliefs, multiple points of view, and free expression? Or are we doomed to keep puffing up provincialism and intolerance, shouting “we’re number one!” until we’re red in the face?