There's a lot to dislike about Jill Lawrence's Politics Daily post about liberals and the flag, starting with the headline: "Another Patriotic Holiday, Another Day of Liberal Flag-Avoidance Syndrome," but the most pernicious aspect is clear: Lawrence's implication that people who do not display the flag do not love their country.
Lawrence begins with a discussion of her own relatively recent conversion to the ranks of the flag-wavers:
Once again on a patriotic holiday, only two flags flew on my block, and it breaks my heart. What is it about liberals that makes so many so disinclined to embrace patriotic symbols, to show the world that they care?
For many years the only flag enthusiast in our household was my husband, a Southerner who served in the army during the Vietnam era. … That all changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. … practically overnight I began to feel a visceral love for its ideals and possibilities, and a strong protective urge. … I became proud of the large flag adorning our porch on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day, the 4th of July. It did not seem to me that this constituted putting my brain or critical faculties in a blind trust. Who would not want to remember and celebrate our soldiers, the birth of our nation?
Of course, plenty of people who fly the flag do so without thinking for a moment about the birth of our nation or what it means, or about soldiers. And plenty of people think about those things every day without ever flying a flag. That fairly obvious reality seems to elude Lawrence.
Here's Lawrence's conclusion:
Liberal politicians have so much trouble proving they are patriots, even those with stellar service records (George McGovern was a World War II bomber pilot; John Kerry earned five medals in Vietnam). They spend a good portion of their campaigns trying, and often failing, to reclaim patriotism and patriotic symbols for the Democratic Party.
The task would be a lot easier for Democrats, particularly presidential candidates, if liberals became unabashed flag-wavers. It's not an impossible prospect. Granted, it's sometimes hard to love this country as it is, but it's easy to love it for what it aims to be. That's how I think of the flag, and that's how this one-time closet patriot learned to love waving it. [Emphasis added]
Lawrence suggests that if only liberals could learn to love their country, they'd become "unabashed flag-wavers." Again, what she seems to miss is that many people love their country -- both what it is and what it aims to be -- but don't feel the need or desire to display a flag to prove it. Just as some people love the Rangers, but don't attend hockey games in face paint. Some people just aren't into making public displays of their beliefs and values. Others are. Neither is an inherently better approach.
Lawrence's column would be perfectly reasonable if it was simply an explanation of why she, and others, choose to display a flag. Where she goes wrong is in suggesting that those who do not choose to display a flag must not share her feelings towards their country.
Plenty of people didn't need the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to remind them that they love what America aims to be, and they don't need Jill Lawrence to tell them how to express that love. But if she insists on doing so, I'd suggest another approach: Focusing not on those who fail to fly the flag, but on those who support institutionalized discrimination, torture, and other policies that are, arguably, rather inconsistent with what America "aims to be." Of course, she wouldn't get to promote stale old stereotypes about unpatriotic liberals if she took that approach.