Many years ago when Congress took its first vote about going into Iraq, I was on the Hill. What a stressful day it was. In the end, there was only one single vote agains that resolution- from Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). Her fundamental disagreement with war and her manifest opposition to the resolution led many to brand her as an unpatriotic traitor to her country. Was it Ibsen who said, “The strongest man (in this case woman) stands alone?” Yes hindsight is 20/20, for today we all know that Congresswoman Lee was perhaps the most patriotic of all.
Patriotism is a word that has been thrown around rampantly in the last 10 years or so, after falling out of colloquial favor in the late 20th Century. Since 9/11, the word has been draped from the lips of our politicians as a rallying flag for just about every piece of major legislation since that viscerally changing day.
Over the years, I’ve come to both love and hate the word. I love it because for me personally it symbolizes loyalty to something greater than oneself. It represents sacrifice for a belief in an ideal and gives nod to the shared experience of being an American. But on the other hand, paradoxically, the actual word causes me great discomfort as it has been confiscated by many who would claim moral high ground over any person who might ask clarifying questions or simply disagree on execution tactics for what is or isn’t right for our country.
During the Bush years (as in Dubbya) I often found myself cringing when I heard the word. Bad ideas kept becoming law under the guise that failure to pass them would somehow be unpatriotic. Honest and thoughtful dissent was deemed the equivalent of betraying one’s country. I find nothing more democratic than meaningful, informed dissent. This really offended my political sense.
That’s why I’m always hesitant to call anyone unpatriotic… unfortunately, this latest news may overtake that hesitation…
As I write, several rogue Members of Congress are packing for Copenhagen where they are on a mission to disrupt climate negotiations- that are not only being supported by our President but could literally be the difference on whether some countries might even EXIST in the future. These so-called ‘patriots’ are fixated on tellin the world that they don’t support President or his policies; they don’t believe in climate change; and they are content to continuing to burn up natural resources no matter what the true cost. In a different decade, their actions to undermine the President on the world stage would be the equivalent of treason. Today, it is queerly regarded as politics.
What pushes me over the edge is knowing that these rogues are being naysayers simply for political power and their refutes have absolutely nothing to do with the actual issue. They have made the political calculus that opposing efforts to address climate change will put them back in power.
Rather than trying to productively tackle an issue unfolding before our own eyes, their “winning strategy” is to represent to the world that we are a divisive America. These few noisy Members of Congress believe they can scare the public into giving them power by turning their backs on efforts to find solutions to climate change in favor of embracing the status-quo vis a vis greedy companies that have been polluting our communities and palling around with rogue nations who are desperate to keep us dependent on dirty fuels and a defeated economy.
I don’t think anyone can get much more unpatriotic than that.
There is room in our democracy for thoughtful debate on the issues. Our democracy will have failed if efforts to address those issues are put aside for the sake of selfish and shortsighted political power.