In the Arena

More on Patriotism

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Pete Wehner, former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war, has taken me to task for claiming that liberalism is more optimistic and therefore inherently more patriotic than conservatism. That takes some nerve. He would compare my statement to the constant drumbeat of right-wingnutters questioning the patriotism of those who do not support the Bush Administration’s foreign policy foolishness. But I didn’t do that at all. I didn’t question the patriotism of conservatives: I simply argued that it is more patriotic to be optimistic about the chance that our collective will–that is, the best work of government–will succeed, rather than that it will fail or impinge on freedom.

In others words, it is more patriotic to be in favor of civil rights legislation than to oppose it…to be in favor of social security and medicare than to oppose them…and to hope that the better angels of our legislators–acting in concert, in compromise–will produce a universal health insurance system and an alternative energy plan that we can all be proud of. Conservative skepticism has its place; it can be a valuable corrective when government goes flabby and corrupt or engages in wild neo-colonialist fantasies abroad. Any new legislation–or any new war–needs to be carefully vetted by those who would question its assumptions or who can put it in a larger context. Those who believe that government can act more ably than free individuals and markets in all–or even in most–circumstances are not patriots, but fools, and the same is true of those who only believe in the supremacy of the market.

But, historically, those who believed in the perfectability of our nation (Add: more precisely, our ability to improve, become more just, adapt to changing circumstances) have been right far more often than they’ve been wrong. Those who have stood in the path of progress have been wrong far more often than they’ve been right. And those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.