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Why do so many Americans consider themselves more patriotic than most other Americans?

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Independence Day is a perfect occasion to reflect on some of the more curious aspects of what we call American patriotism.

Most of us — 60 percent, according to a poll of a few years ago — consider ourselves just as patriotic as the next guy. But fully one-third of Americans say they are more patriotic than most other people. Forty-three percent of Republicans and 51 percent of self-described Tea Party types feel that way.

This sense of superior patriotism is also far more common among senior citizens than among younger folks. It’s also far more common among people who are especially critical of the federal government or highly critical of President Obama.

Some of these same folks are quick to embrace any theory, no matter how  far-fetched, that Obama is not sufficiently patriotic.

A few years ago, for example, a big deal was made of the news that Obama would not be attending the traditional Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

But the critics were hypocritical on several counts. They ignored the fact that George H.W. Bush skipped the Arlington ceremonies in each of his four years as president. And they said nothing about Ronald Reagan snubbing the Arlington doings on four of the eight Memorial Days during his presidency. (He was at his California ranch or something.)

The worst part of this knock on Obama’s patriotism was that it ignored the fact that he attended Memorial Day services that year at a military cemetery in Chicago.

Such phony impugnations of Obama’s Americanism are part and parcel of what I call “competitive patriotism” — the curious penchant among some people to cast themselves or their groups as more patriotic than thou, as if love of country is a competition. My flag is bigger than yours. I get bigger goosebumps than you do when I hear the National Anthem. I love America more than you do.

Republican politicians are far more likely than their Democratic counterparts to let everyone know that their patriotism is boundless. They do that, I’m sure,  because they sense that their political base is largely comprised of  these competitive patriots.

Mitt Romney carried this penchant to ludicrous lengths one day last year when he offered this bit of gibberish: “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.”

The proclivity among some people to brag about their patriotism has always struck me as phony. I prefer American historian Maurice Garland Fulton’s definition: “True patriotism is quiet, simple, dignified; it is not blatant, verbose, vociferous.”

Another worthy definition came from Adlai Stevenson II in a speech 61 years ago this month at an American Legion convention:

“We talk a great deal about patriotism. What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power — to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

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18 Comments

  1. The answer is simple, and obvious, if by “patriotic” you mean in line with the founding principles. If you don’t, and most Tea Party folks do, then patriotic to you means being loyal to a politician, or to a political party, instead of the country as it was founded.

    Now for a real eye opener, something you may have only heard of. But, you should read it too.
    http://rosscalloway.com/the-words-that-started-it-all/

  2. Ross thinks the Tea Party crowd are “in line with the founding principles.”

    Why am I not surprised?

    My impression is that most of those folks know little or nothing of the founding principles. And neither does Ross, as he proves with his link to a claim that President Obama is much like King George III.

    Poor Ross! Ever the pathological Obamaphobe.

  3. If you read the Declaration Pat, where the link brings you, there are similarities. Do you need me to point them out for you? I would suggest that you know nothing of the founding principles if you think that the Tea Party folks are don’t know what they are.

    Now, address the subject of your post as relates to my answer to it? Please give your definition of “patriotic.” I offered mine.

  4. Brian Opsahl

    Most Americans don’t know or care what those founding principles are, because they do not pertain to todays America.

    There not being un-patriotc it’s just most of this was writen so long ago they don’t aply.

  5. Robert

    Brian, kind of like the Bible? “There not being un-patriotc it’s just most of this was writen so long ago they don’t aply.”

  6. Ross: Patriotism is defined in the dictionary as “love of country.”

    My own sense of patriotism is a love of my country’s finest principles, which don’t necessarily hew to all of the principles of the Founding Fathers, who denied women the vote and couldn’t bring themselves to ban slavery.

    The modern Tea Party movement is largely ignorant of the forces that were at play in the American Revolution. They seem to think the Boston Tea Party was a protest against a tax increase. In reality, it was a protest against a tax cut. They also seem not to understand that there’s a big difference between the colonial protest against “taxation without representation.” Taxation today comes WITH representation. The officials who impose taxes are all duly elected.

  7. OK, I can see where you’re coming from. You, like Brian, don’t think the Constitution is relevant any more. You like some amendments and guarantees but not others. BTW Pat, no where in our Constitution does it say women can’ t vote and blacks must be slaves. It was written so as to allow changes to it to be made, which were made, so that 1) it would be ratified by all 13 colonies and 2) so things like slavery and womens suffrage could be rectified. I’m surprised that you stoop to such a banal argument as that to justify your denial of the fact that those founding documents, as amended, are our roadmap for governance. Obama doesn’t like or respect them either. Thanks for clearing that up for me. Just scratch out the 10th amendment, the 1st, and whatever other ones don’t suit your collective (socialist?) agenda, and be proud or your country, or patriotic, fot it. That’s assinine, but hey, you’re entitled.

  8. Ross: I see that it’s becoming almost pointless to argue with a fool who falsely claims that I “don’t think the Constitution is relevant any more.”

    I’ve never said that, and I don’t think that. I do, however, think you’re a raving right-wing Obamaphobe who knows little or nothing about the philosophical roots of this Republic and the true thoughts of the Founding Fathers.

    You say that Obama “doesn’t like or respect” our founding documents. But he was a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, which has a reputation, by the way, for conservatism.

    Where did you teach constitutional law, Ross? More to the point, where did you learn anything about constitutional law? Pat Robertson’s Clown College?

    I’m almost tempted to challenge you to a public debate on American history with a special focus on the last few decades of the 18th century. I’m a student of that era with a personal library of scores of books on the subject.

    Face it, Ross. You’re out of your league.

  9. Incidentally, Ross, your passing reference to the 10th amendment suggests that you’re one of these states’ rights fanatics.

    I strongly urge you to read up on the “Supremacy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution. You might actually learn a thing or two.

  10. Glad you brought up Obama’s credentials as a “professor of constitutional law” which, I don’t think he was. I think he did lectures or some such. Whatever. But anyway, no, he doesn’t respect the constitution, he doesn’t protect it, and he doesn’t defend it. He believes that it is “a charter of negative liberties,” to quote him precisely. He also detests the 10th Amendment because it necessarily restrains him, and government, which was the intention of the founding fathers. See that in your history books anywhere Mr. History professor? The federal government must do nothing that the States don’t delegate it to do. That really pisses him off. It does not allow for nationalizing any part of the private sector economy. Nor does it have the power to force citizens to buy anything they don’t want to. But we have Obamacare anyway. It doesn’t allow him to enforce some laws and not others. He and the AG are charged with enforcing them. Period. I know of the “supremacy clause.” As in the case of Arizona, who made a law that mirrors the Fed statutes, he claimed favor by the supremacy clause, and the SCOTUS backed him up. What he argued is that Arizona overstepped its bounds by enforcing the law that they didn’t want to, ostensibly putting Arizona in a position superior to the federal govt. He uses ‘regulatory agencies’ of the executive branch to circumvent the 10th Amendment. Don’t tell me this is all news to you. Am a little encouraged to hear you think Brian is a fool, although you didn’t say that. Because he said the Constitution wasn’t written for “todays America” and “was writen so long ago they don’t aply.” Do you believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are our operator’s manual for governance, or just a general guide for governance, moldable by any of the three branches of government absent a constitutional amendment? I believe it is our operators manual. That’s also called “strict constructionist.” You’ll find reference to that in your books. Well, providing you have the complete set. :) The Tea Party (coming full circle) also believes in the “strict constructionist” model. “Don’t tread on me.” Know what that means in this context? If you think I’m a right wing states’ right fanatic, then I guess you must also think that of the founding fathers.

  11. Ross says “The federal government must do nothing that the States don’t delegate it to do.”

    Incredible. The states don’t tell the federal government what to do, Ross. Congress does.

    I give up. It’s absolutely pointless trying to argue with anyone who’s this dumb.

    Prattle on, Ross. You’ll not likely get any further argument from me.

  12. Pat, your condescension is only matched by your ignorance. Congress is the states. Both House and Senate representatives are elected by their respective states to represent the wishes of the people of their state. That’s not quite the way it works out when it comes to Obamacare. In that case, they represented the party.

    How about you prattle about the constitutional professor Pat. Tell us, what were his lectures all about? Have you spoken to, or has anyone spoken to, any of his students? Do we know what he taught about the constitution? Rumor has it those details are kept private at his request. Why would that be Pat? If anyone would know what his focus was, it would be the great investigative reporter Brian Ross. No, not interested I guess. His time and tenure in the educational establishment has never been vetted.

    Based on his resume, I can assure you it was about ways to get the federal government to do more than the constitution permits. Why else would his frame of mind about it be “a charter of negative liberties.” Negative? The federal government’s power is supposed to be limited. He sees that as a negative. Necessarily 180 degrees from the Tea Party and other conservative folks. He said the constitution doesn’t say what the government “must do” for the people and there’s a reason for that. It is the people, Congress, that gives the federal government its power and mandate. The constitution says that it is the responsibility of the federal government to defend the people, the borders, and the country. And protect and defend life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The constitution also mandates that the president must protect and defend the constitution. That really puts him between a rock and a hard place. Sucks to be him.

    I have no doubt that his lectures also included agendas from his community organizer days when it comes to voter registration and ways to advance an agenda the Saul Alinsky way.

    All the above is his resume. But I’m confident that you Pat, you are the one that knows without a doubt what Obama taught. And I don’t mean the subject title. I mean the substance of what he taught. Please, for all of us, tell us about that.

    You can prattle on about who is dumb, but that doesn’t address the substance here. From your statement about states and congress, I think that was telling enough who the dumb one is.

    I posed a question to you in my previous post Pat. Do you have the intelligence and courage to answer it? Calling me names to discredit me doesn’t excuse you from the debate. Not in my book anyway.

  13. Pat, do you remember saying this? “My impression is that most of those folks know little or nothing of the founding principles. And neither does Ross, as he proves with his link to a claim that President Obama is much like King George III.” Did you provide any thing to support your opinion?

    In all fairness, to me, here are 6 instances of similarities between the Crown and the anointed One, directly quoted from the Declaration of Independence.

    Think about each of them. Compare that to what he and his administration has done so far. Tell me if you have any doubts of a similarity. I’ll be glad to help you out.

    About King George, the founders wrote:

    1)He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    2)He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    3)He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

    4)He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

    5)He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

    6)For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

  14. Crickets . . .

    I like Teddy Roosevelt’s definition of patriotism Pat. Try this . . .

    “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

  15. Brian Opsahl

    Show me where I wrote that I didn’t believe the Constitution was relevant.
    That’s not what I said or meant.
    My point was that the founding principles were established so long ago that most people haven’t taken the time to read and follow what was said in the document.
    You wingnuts sure love to make your own conclusions about anything writen on these pages and then run with them as if they were true…just like fox news does’ maybe thats where you all learned that from.

  16. Brian, I was only quoting what you said. What conclusion is to me made besides you don’t think it is relevant any more when you write :
    “Most Americans don’t know or care what those founding principles are, because they do not pertain to todays America. There not being un-patriotc it’s just most of this was writen so long ago they don’t aply.”

    Your second sentence sounds to me like your belief, beginning with the word “it’s.” If you now want to ascribe that to “most Americans” and not your personal opinion, then fine. If that is the case then we are in agreement that the founding documents are our rulebook for governance.

  17. Brian Opsahl

    Of course they are our rulebook but as I said most Americans couldn’t tell you anything in the document…that’s all I was saying.

    Do you think the framers could have seen the weaponry or how information flows or most of the issues we encounter today. No, and that shows how when times change your laws and ideas have to change with the times to reflect the era.

  18. OK, I think we’re still in agreement on the founding documents being our roadmap for governance. The fact that times and technology changes is a fact of life. Which is what makes the founding documents so special. They lay out the principles of what a good government should be. Not the nuts and bolts of it.

    They provided for a process for change via amendments, keeping foremost the principle that the government does not run the people, like a dictator or in their case, the Crown. On the contrary, it is the people who give the government all power beyond the defense of the country, borders, and its citizens. Like I said earlier, it is the people (as in the States) in Congress that give the federal government all of its power. ie: the 10th Amendment. Not the reverse.

    The beauty and brilliance of these founding documents is that, although times do change, and progress in unimaginable ways does, over time, occur, our founding principles are timeless. Principles don’t expire. And that really pisses off, and is an obstacle to, President Obama. Like I also said earlier, sucks to be him.

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