Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Sam Smith

At a time when it looks like we're about to start a war with Iran, gas is over $4 a gallon and our economy is in trouble, the best it seems we can do is argue over whether Barack Obama is a patriot. In fact, Obama is a good American just like John McCain. The ones I worry about are those whose definition of patriotism is so narcissistic that they exclude from the category anyone who disagrees with them, because if there is any worthy definition of a bad American it is someone is unwilling to share the place with others.

The whole matter would not be so important if it weren't for the media force feeding it to the public as though it were something real rather than the cynical spin of conservative vote scroungers. Whenever a dumb issue becomes dominant in a campaign you can reasonably count on the media to embrace it, not out of ideology, but from the relief of discovering something easy enough for it to understand. You can have endless talk shows on the subject without the danger that facts might suddenly intrude. One could just as easily have a debate on which candidate is most likely to enter heaven or sleeps best on his side.

The matter is further intensified by a nonsensical conflating of patriotism and heroism. Heroism is considered in America a lifetime pass to patriotism even though, as Joseph Conrad noted, the hero and the coward are those who, for one brief moment, do something out of the ordinary. At least the ones we honor, that is. The career firefighter, the inner city grandmother raising six grandchildren whose father is in jail and mother has a lousy job, or the teacher year after year helping to save those who society has preemptively discarded are not treated as sacred, as heroes, or as worthy of special honor during political campaigns and or on the evening news. But killing some Iraqis of Vietnamese, or being killed by them, now that's the real thing

Our perversion of patriotism and courage is heightened by the fact that most of the modern media has had no personal involvement in the military. They frequently have a fairy tale notion of what it is all about, one that it happily passed on to citizens on the evening news. So deep is this bias that the media consistently treats those who follow the way of peace - even heroically or with consistent courage - as crazies not worth scheduling for comment.

The media's handling of the matter is so rotten that it even takes shots at a general who dares to criticized another military man whom the press had designated as a hero. Here's the exchange with CBS's Bob Schieffer:

GENERAL CLARK - I certainly honor [McCain's] service as a prisoner of war. . . But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded - that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall.

BOB SCHIEFFER - Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down

GENERAL CLARK - Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

Is there any grounds to disagree with General Clark? Only cowardice, swiftly demonstrated by Barack Obama (whom Clark is pushing) who acted as though the general had committed some ghastly sin. Obama followed his timidity by a dreadfully pompous, self righteous speech on patriotism. Do we really have to go through all this, just to have a better president than John McCain? It really shouldn't have been this difficult.

When you add it up, there are really three offenders in these instances:

- Rovian right wingers who create the false issue in the first place

- A media that propels the fake issue into false prominence

- Democrats like Obama whose foolish efforts at exculpation are seen as a sign of weakness and encouragement by those who started the problem in the first place. And so the circle turns again.

McCain has one big advantage over Obama: he knows who he is. He doesn't know that he shouldn't be proud of who he is, and in fact should apologize for it, but he projects the sort of confidence of his role as an American to which other Americans respond positively. To often, Democrats like Obama behave is if these things were matters of intellectual consideration, or just commercial branding problems, rather than an expression of spirit and style. As Louis Armstrong once said of jazz, if you have to ask how act American you'll never know.

This, of course, doesn't mean you're not American; just that you're badly prepared to deal with the fools who suggest that you're not.

It took courage, but more than that, it took self understanding and pride of a sort campaign consultants these days try to wean candidates from. No one again ever doubted who Dilworth was; with Obama they're still trying to find out.


At July 1, 2008 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is showing himself. He is cowering before the neofascists on the latest FISA bill, and prostrating himself before the religious right by promising to provide more money for church based groups. He has given into AIPAC, and seems to be just fine with bombing Iran.

It appears that we will have a choice between the McCain flavor of Bush's third term, and the Obama flavor of the same. One might be a bit less noxious than the other, but we can expect no real reform.

At July 1, 2008 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is a product of our time, vanilla is the only flavor that won't be slandered by special interests.

Or you can try the McSame approach: 31 flavors.

Clark was the perfect one to point out the obvious about McSame, being a prisoner of war does not automatically confer leadership ability, regardless of how you might feel about how he served the country.

At July 1, 2008 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The major difference between Obama and McCain is what the supreme court will look like. And the effects of that will last for a generation or more.

At July 2, 2008 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ordering the bombs to fall makes Clark a hero? I can think of a few better terms, such as psychopath, mass murderer, grim reaper, megalomaniac...

Dropping bombs from 20,000 feet on an unseen enemy may be a more technologically advanced way of killing people, but it hardly takes the courage of looking your opponent in the eye before killing him, and living with the horror of what you've become.

At July 2, 2008 6:26 AM, Blogger Lars said...

I'm not sure if Woodrow Wilson is the right person to quote in this otherwise excellent article. After all, Wilson foolishly lead us into WWI against the will of a huge majority of Americans. He then couldn't stand any criticism and so he passed sedition acts to squash free speech and criticism of himself and his war.

Wilson was either the original watch what I say, not what I do politician when he claimed new citizens answered to nobody but God, or he believed himself to be God.

At July 2, 2008 3:30 PM, Anonymous m said...

lars said:

"Wilson was either the original watch what I say, not what I do politician when he claimed new citizens answered to nobody but God, or he believed himself to be God."

Sorry lars, I must disagree. The original of both varieties of politician is undoubtedly lost to prehistory.

At July 3, 2008 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most Roman emperors believed themselves to be gods and all the European monarchs believed that ruled as god's agent.


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