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Let's Pile On Joe

04/14/2006 08:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, Joe

I'd like to know, what is an "America-hater"? How come the words "America-hater" always come up when we're talking about people on the left and never come up when we're talking about, say, that percentage of the US population who believes that the world is going to end and they are going to be "raptured up", leaving those Americans who disagree with them behind to suffer indescribable torments on, I suppose, American soil? Or how about this--was Martin Luther King "an America-hater" like Michael Moore, because he recognized that the US was a two-track nation, with an opportunity track for white people and a dead-end track for black people, and he wanted to change it? Was Woody Guthrie an "America-hater" because he wrote songs like "Deportee" and "This Land is Your Land" and my favorite, "Do Re Me"? Do you qualify as an America-hater if, as I did, you wept at the election of Ronald Reagan, because you knew that the take-over of the government by the corporations was imminent? And speaking of that, why don't you refer to companies who don't pay their corporate income taxes as "America-haters"? Isn't a person who maintains that "Capital" has to be free to move around the world, and can't be kept in America an "America-hater"? And with regard to taxes--there are lots of people on the right in America who hate to pay taxes, who have made a political movement out of not wanting to pay taxes, who gutted the enforcement branch of the IRS in the nineties (I'm talking about Gingrich and his cronies). I think people, especially rich people, who aren't willing to pay taxes ("Club for Growth") hate America, don't you? Let's talk about The Nation magazine. You are willing to specifically designate the writers of The Nation as "America-haters". I read every issue of The Nation. Many times those writers do deplore things that are happening in America, like the rise of the anti-choice movement or the loss of American influence for good in the world because of a failed, misconceived, and tragic war in Iraq, or the closing of the separation between the church and state in America, but does wanting America to do the right thing and avoid the wrong thing qualify as "America-hating"? Did you read the piece about Pete Seeger in this week's New Yorker? According to that piece, Pete Seeger has always believed that "All men are created equal", and that has offended people for years. Does quoting the Declaration of Independence qualify as "America-hating"? You would surely call me, as a Nation reader and a fan of Michael Moore an "America-hater", so let me fan the fire. The other night I watched the old Cagney movie, "Yankee Doodle Dandy". At the beginning of that movie, war begins, and you see newpapers lying in the streets with the headline "Congress votes to go to War, 378-0". I guess you would say that it is an example of my "America-hating" nature that it made me sick to see those headlines and reflect that Bush and his friends never even bothered to declare war in the consitutional fashion, but just usurped the powers of the Congress and sent the army to fail and die in Iraq. And speaking of that, wouldn't you call someone who referred to the Constitution as "just a god-damned piece of paper" an America-hater? I would--George W. Bush, who made that remark (according to Karen Kwiatkowski, who posted it on this board) is an America-hater in my book. And Grover Norquist, who wants to drown and strangle the Federal government in a bathtub qualifies as an America-hater, too. And Tom Delay, who set out to corrupt the government beyond repair--well, that's a good example of "America-hating". And Sam Brownback, who is taking instruction in right-wing Catholicism and hopes to turn the US into a christian theocracy, according to Rolling Stone--there's "America-hating' in spades.

Let me tell you something about "America-hating". When I was a kid in St. Louis, Missouri, my grandparents epitomized what I thought American was. My grandfather, whose family had come to Virginia in the early 1600's, and who himself had homesteaded in Idaho in the 1920s, knew what seemed like every folk song and every Civil War song there was. When he sang "Sweet Betsey from Pike" or "Shenandoah" as we drove over the Missouri River not far from where it emptied into the Mississippi, I saw in my imagination the whole country unfolding around me, in every direction, up and down the Mississippi from St. Paul to New Orleans, up the Ohio to Pittsburgh, out the Missouri to Montana. It was thrilling to know that the Graveses and the Jeffersons had set out in every generation to find a life somewhere in America between Virginia and California, and for the most part, they had succeeded--middle class people with a sense of freedom and ambition, making their way for hundreds of years. My grandmother had a family odyssey, too. Her grandfather was an abolitionist and her father was a progressive newspaper editor who interviewed Jesse James when he was in jail in Minnesota. Her mother was a Norwegian immigrant who left Norway for Minnesota by herself when she was sixteen. I adored my grandparents and I felt supremely lucky to be an American. But along with this luck, I soon realized, came the responsibility to be vigilant about what was being done in America and to America in my name, and in their names.

So, Joe Klein, I wonder if you've noticed in the last five years that in the name of patriotism, the right wing has decimated the treasury, broken the army, wrecked the bureaucracy, silenced the media, gelded the opposition party, handed the public lands over to private interests to exploit as they please, dirtied the air and water, impoverished the working class, damaged the schools, outsourced the jobs, and laid waste to the public health. You haven't said much about that, but that's what I call America-hating.

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