Liberals, patriots can coexist

Patriotism is an issue in which key voices on the American right feel free to bash the American left. Example: one of conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh’s favorite taunts is the “guilty liberal.” Just listen, as our nation’s most popular schlock-jock tries to conjure for us an image – of some naive little sieve, who sits around and complains about our nation’s insensitivity.

Or check out an issue of the National Review. Now here’s a magazine that was once respected for its maverick viewpoints and policy approaches. But nowadays, it devotes entire columns to the notion, that liberals do nothing but criticize our nation and its institutions.

These folks – along with some well-known, and sometimes shameless, politicans – have apparently achieved some success at making the word “liberal” synonymous with “mud.” Limbaugh and Co. have, in fact, convinced at least some of our fellow citizens: it’s ok to hate thy neighbor, and still be able to live with yourself.

Locally, it was veteran WPLG-10 political commentator Michael Putney who made one of the more striking observations.

At a recent town hall meeting that featured local and national reporters, Putney harkened back to media coverage immediately following the aftermath of September 11, when every politician and newscaster expressed an immediate, natural, and profound desire, to show support for and solidarity with those who’d suffered. Many took to wearing a pin or ribbon of the American flag. And Mr. Putney had done the same.

For a time, some newscasters and reporters thought wearing the flag might be thought of as the only appropriate, and visual correct reaction to take. But some worried those who did were jumping on a symbolic and visual bandwagon. For others, it posed another concern: that cosmetic displays of this nature suggest the endorsement of some kind of lockstep, knee-jerk conformity. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send, when you want to express solidarity, with freedom-loving nation.

And for yet others felt it represented a new variation on an old tradition: absolution. By (literally) wearing the flag on your sleeve, you might become distinguished, cleansed of sin, or at the very least, established, as ‘one of the good guys.’ Such was the type of thinking that had reigned supreme, in the America of the 1950’s – thanks largely to the exploits of one U.S. Senator, Joe McCarthy.

After a few days, Putney decided to stop wearing his pin for the camera. In response, several viewers sent letters, apparently with this decision as their source of contention. Indeed, these viewers had, in fact, noticed that he’d removed his pin – and they wanted him to know that they had noticed it. They also wanted him to know, that they weren’t too happy about it, either.

Hearing of this, I wondered: had those folks even heard of Joe McCarthy? And if they had, don’t they know what the guy did to people? Or what he did to the nation?

Better still: why didn’t the letter-writers choose another way to spend their time – and to express their patriotism? Why not, say, help another citizen in need, or do some volunteer work a local charity? It’s not like there’s a shortage of need these days.

Maybe the ghost of Joe ‘Love-it-or-leave-it’ McCarthy has returned to haunt us. Then again, maybe he never actually left.

Fact is, it’s easy to be both a patriot and a liberal. You can support tax cuts, the War in Afghanistan, and even the sentiments behind Bush’s “axis of evil” remark – and still be a liberal. And calling attention to the nation’s maladies is just as patriotic, if not more so, than only focusing on the positives.

Jason-Eric Anderson is graduate student at the School of Communication.