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What Is Patriotism?

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Calls for patriotism were used during the Bush Administration with the implication that those who did not support them in wartime were unpatriotic. But what about the summer of 2009 with its town hall meetings turned into shouting matches and signs that incited hate?

Webster's Dictionary defines patriotism as: "love and loyal or zealous support of one's country."

Does President Barack Obama love his country? He's put his life on the line to serve it, so, evidence points to a resounding yes. That is not hyperbole. The threats against this president are up 400 percent over his predecessor.

Are there reasons for citizens to be angry? The economy, for Wall Street, has begun to turn around. The problem is that it's not happening for Main Street. We're justifiably frightened by and frustrated with the oligarchy that has intertwined itself like the tentacles of a Jules Verne octopus into congressional reelection coffers. We get it. They are, for the most part, not there for us.

Can the same be said of President Obama? He didn't have to take on the third rail of health care reform. He could have been like all the presidents before him since Truman; talked about reform but never have gotten anything past the special interests that have exposed themselves as more interested in their specialness than in what the country needs as a whole (see definition: patriotism).

That's not what President Obama did. What he did was to put the wellbeing of his constituents (the American people) ahead of his own safety and political future.

See again, definition: Patriotism.

The paid special interests critics cry foul. They made up whatever would frighten people to steer them away from both their own self-interest and from what is required to save our economy (see: projected increases in health care costs).

These special interests would argue that they have their own pressures. They have jobs to keep, boards and stockholders to please, big mortgages to pay, children to put through Ivy League schools, ex's to support, country clubs with large dues. That last may have revealed some skepticism, but it's true that there's no crime in being rich nor should there be. Everyone would like to be rich and we all would be if it weren't so darn expensive.

But does that make them unpatriotic? They are, after all, citizens of this country and citizens in this great country have a right to dissent.

What they forgot in their bizarre shouting match was that there are legitimate questions about health care reform that could have been to their advantage: Should there be an employer mandate? Should Cadillac plans be taxed? Should there be a requirement to get coverage? Should there be a public option? Will costs ever go down if there is not?

These are valid questions.

So, why did they invalidate themselves through demagoguery? And, by doing so, did they reveal something about themselves and their own understanding of patriotism and the right to dissent?

Like it or not, Barack Obama is the elected president of our country, of all the people, in a time of war. We have Iraq to get out of, Gitmo to close, Afghanistan/Pakistan (shame on anyone who tries to say they don't go hand-in-hand) to figure out, loose nukes and nuclear programs to prevent or control, and preexisting and too often neglected conflicts to resolve in a way that is fair to all sides for a change.

President Obama may deserve criticism. It is NOT unpatriotic to question his policies in a time of peace or war. But trying to undermine his presidency, his legitimacy, his personal safety, especially in a time of war, IS unpatriotic at best.

There are many battles ahead for this country and for its citizens after the mess left by the prior administration. The situation in Afghanistan has no good answers. No matter what choice President Obama makes, he (and we) will not have a clean result. Health care costs and care have spiraled out of control. It must be managed or America will go far more bankrupt than through the deficits created out of stimulus or bank bailouts. Unemployment is on the rise. We need the president's and the vice president's help to defeat the oligarchical special interests who are oh-too-happy to see the middle class and its higher wages go by the wayside.

And then there's climate change.

That challenges Americans' patriotism, as well. It's not just the weather. It's the consequences of climate instability. You think we're not in trouble because winter came early to some parts of the U.S.? Try to find a drink of water in Kenya today.

This article by Bill Becker, entitled, "The Real Patriot Act", details the concern by leading military figures about the national security dangers represented by climate change:

A panel of 12 distinguished retired generals and admirals has just released the latest in a series of reports over the past two years warning that global climate change is not just an environmental issue, or an economic issue, or a public health and welfare issue. It's an urgent matter of national security.

Among their conclusions:

• Our current energy posture causes military, diplomatic and economic vulnerabilities that are "exploitable by those who wish to do us harm."

• A business as usual approach to energy security poses a "unacceptably high threat level from a series of converging risks"

President Obama had two choices when he came into office. He could address the pressing problems: health care, climate change, war, despite the financial emergency left by his predecessor -- or he could have used that financial emergency as a way to defer the third rails of health care, climate change and war.

That he chose the more difficult road that is similar to the road chosen by President Franklin Roosevelt before him, was to our good fortune, whether the majority of Americans realize it or not. That it earned President Obama an extreme and bizarre reaction from special interests (much like FDR had to put up with, but without the gotchas of 24 hour cable news, the blogosphere and the racism that has surfaced against America's first African-American president) is to OUR misfortune.

We can question our president's choices, his policies, the speed with which his initiatives take effect. But, when someone tries to undermine his effectiveness, especially at a time of war, it's fair to ask if they're patriotic to do so.

This is not a new question. Those who supported the Bush Administration asked that question repeatedly of their critics. Here's a question for them: If they want President Obama to fail more than they want America to succeed, how is that patriotism?

If these critics were kids in the neighborhood mouthing off for attention, you know what you'd say: Knock it off.

Mouthing off with blatant untruths and unconscionable scare tactics over the airwaves, on the blogosphere (the new American neighborhood), or by shouting down questions at town halls when there are valid questions that need answers, is no different.

They should knock it off.

More on this topic at THE ENVIRONMENTALIST

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