Jonah Goldberg claimed that Democrats, and specifically Sen. Barack Obama, "cannot credibly talk of love of country while simultaneously dodging the word and concept of patriotism." In fact, Obama has not "dodg[ed] the word and concept of patriotism" -- invoking them in numerous speeches going back to at least 2002.
In his March 11 Los Angeles Times column, National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg claimed that Democrats, and specifically Sen. Barack Obama, "cannot credibly talk of love of country while simultaneously dodging the word and concept of patriotism." Goldberg wrote: "When Democrats do speak of patriotism, it is usually as a means of finding fault with Republicans, corporations or America itself," adding: "Indeed, the one area in which Obama explicitly invokes patriotism is in the realm of economics. He proposes a Patriot Corporation Act that would punish corporations that legally avoid U.S. taxes." In fact, Obama has frequently invoked "patriots" and "patriotism" in his speeches going back to at least 2002, and not just in "the realm of economics," as Goldberg claimed.
Goldberg's assertion comes after Time columnist Joe Klein falsely suggested in his March 6 column that Obama's focus on "patriotism" was new, writing that "patriotism replaced hope as a theme of his [March 4] concession speech [in Texas]." As evidence, Klein wrote that Obama "echoed John McCain in citing Abraham Lincoln, and called America 'the last best hope on Earth.' " In fact, Obama has repeatedly used Lincoln's "the last best hope on Earth" line during his presidential campaign.
Goldberg wrote in his March 11 column:
'Unity is the great need of the hour. ... Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country. I'm not talking about a budget deficit. ... I'm talking about a moral deficit. I'm talking about an empathy deficit. I'm taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny."
So quoth Barack Obama in Atlanta on Jan. 20, but it might as well have been last week, so central is unity to his presidential campaign. And then there's Michelle Obama. "We have lost the understanding that, in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another," the would-be first lady told a rally last month. "That we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done."
What is fascinating here is not the sentiment, but what's missing from it. The P-word.
To invoke patriotism seriously is to brand yourself either an old fogy or a right-wing bully. If Obama spoke about patriotism with the sort of passion he expends on unity, many would take him for some sort of demagogue.
When Democrats do speak of patriotism, it is usually as a means of finding fault with Republicans, corporations or America itself. Hence the irony that questioning the patriotism of liberals is a grievous sin, but doing likewise to conservatives is fine. That's how then-candidate Howard Dean could with a straight face insist that then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft "is no patriot. He's a direct descendant of Joseph McCarthy."
Indeed, the one area in which Obama explicitly invokes patriotism is in the realm of economics. He proposes a Patriot Corporation Act that would punish corporations that legally avoid U.S. taxes. ("Now here is a Patriot Act everyone can get behind," gushed the Nation's William Greider.)
Meanwhile, Michelle Obama famously declared last month that her husband's candidacy elicited pride in her country for the first time in her adult life. I like to think that's not really what she meant, but it's a sign of how ill-equipped she and so many others are on the left when it comes to discussing such issues.
And it's a crying shame, despite the fact that the Democrats' rhetorical disadvantage is a huge boon for the Republicans. One cannot credibly talk of love of country while simultaneously dodging the word and concept of patriotism. And, I would argue, one cannot sufficiently love one's country if you are afraid to say so out loud. Better that our politics be an argument about why and how we should love our country, not about whether some do and some don't.
Contrary to Goldberg's claims, however, Obama has invoked "the word and concept of patriotism" in numerous speeches. From Obama's October 2, 2002, speech declaring his opposition to invading Iraq:
OBAMA: Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don't oppose all wars.
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. I don't oppose all wars.
After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration's pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again. I don't oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism.
What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
From Obama's July 27, 2004, keynote address to the Democratic National Convention:
OBAMA: Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
From Obama's June 22, 2007, speech:
When I am President, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama Administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer, or your bank account -- it's about serving your country, and that's what comes first. When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts directly related to your former employer for two years. And when you leave, you will not be able to lobby the Administration throughout the remainder of my term in office.
A lot of people have told me this is pretty tough, but I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job after they're done. I know we can find them, and in my administration, we will.
From Obama's August 21, 2007, speech:
OBAMA: We know that the America we live in is the legacy of those who have borne the burden of battle. You are part of an unbroken line ofAmericans who threw off the tyranny of a King; who held the country together and set the captives free; who faced down fascism and fought for freedom in Korea and Vietnam; who liberated Kuwait and stopped ethnic cleansing in the Balkans; and who fight bravely and brilliantly under our flag today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Keeping faith with those who serve must always be a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism. Because America's commitment to its servicemen and women begins at enlistment, and it must never end.
From Obama's December 5, 2007, speech:
OBAMA: Eventually, I realized I wasn't just helping other people. Through service, I found a community that embraced me; a church to belong to; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction I'd been seeking. Through service, I found that my own improbable story fit into a larger American story.
In America, each of us seeks our own dreams, but the sum of those dreams must be greater than ourselves. Because the America we inherited is the legacy of those who struggled, and those who served in so many ways, before us.
It's the legacy of a band of unlikely patriots who overthrew the tyranny of a King.
It's the legacy of abolitionists who stood up, and soldiers who fought for a more perfect union.
From Obama's December 27, 2007, speech:
OBAMA: I've spoken to veterans who talk with pride about what they've accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq, but who nevertheless think of those they've left behind and question the wisdom of our mission in Iraq; the mothers weeping in my arms over the memories of their sons; the disabled or homeless vets who wonder why their service has been forgotten.
And I've spoken to Americans in every corner of the state, patriots all, who wonder why we have allowed our standing in the world to decline so badly, so quickly. They know this has not made us safer. They know that we must never negotiate out of fear, but that we must never fear to negotiate with our enemies as well as our friends. They are ashamed of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and warrantless wiretaps and ambiguity on torture. They love their country and want its cherished values and ideals restored.
On Page 55 (hardcover) of his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown, 2005), Obama wrote:
If we Americans are individualistic at heart, if we instinctively chafe against a past of tribal allegiances, traditions, customs, and castes, it would be a mistake to assume that this is all we are. Our individualism has always been bound by a set of communal values, the glue upon which every healthy society depends. We value the imperatives of family and the cross-generational obligations that family implies. We value community, the neighborliness that expresses itself through raising the barn or coaching the soccer team. We value patriotism and the obligations of citizenship, a sense of duty and sacrifice on behalf of our nation. We value a faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that something expresses itself in formal religion or ethical precepts. And we value the constellation of behaviors that express our mutual regard for one another: honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy, and compassion.
In a March 11 entry to his blog, The Carpetbagger Report, Steven Benen called Goldberg's column "bewildering", writing: "I've noticed that much of Obama's message touches on explicitly patriotic themes, and has for several years. But today, Jonah Goldberg explains that it's unsatisfactory, because Obama doesn't specifically use the word 'patriotism' enough." Benen also quoted Frank Foer of The New Republic, who noted that the crowd at Obama's January 3 speech following the Iowa caucuses began chanting "USA! USA!" Foer wrote:
Still, his [Obama's] emphasis on the "nation" -- one of his most recurrent themes -- is also one of his most appealing. I don't think I've ever heard a crowd of Democratic primary voters erupt in a spontaneous display like this. It was a genuinely moving moment, and another leading indicator of his electibility. Liberals who credibly bathe themselves in patriotism greatly increase their chances -- and, in this case, prepare themselves well for running against John McCain.
Goldberg's claim echoes the comments of Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, who on the February 19 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse asserted, "[T]here is this feeling, and it has affected Democratic politicians for a long time, that they are kind of embarrassed by patriotism."