It just doesn't square with the right wing narrative. They painted Barack Obama as an unpatriotic, "terrorist sympathizing" candidate whose values are foreign to the American way of life. How could it be that his ascendance to the presidency should be the occasion for the new patriotic spirit sweeping America?
Yesterday on the mall in Washington hundreds of thousands belted out "This Land is Your Land" led by 90-year-old labor activist and folk singer Pete Seeger who was blacklisted in the 50s. The eyes of white middle aged working guys moistened as they listened to a black children's choir sing "America the Beautiful". And throughout the crowd -- even among the aging 60s activists who had struggled against the Vietnam War -- there was a genuine, deep admiration for the men and women who risk it all every day in our armed forces.
And it's not just in Washington. As unlikely as it might seem to the right, the election of Barack Hussein Obama has caused an intense feeling of patriotism to well up across the country. I think there are four reasons why:
First and foremost, Obama and his call to service -- to commitment -- has touched our most fundamental self interest -- our desire for meaning. Obama understands that to have a real sense of significance, you have to have a commitment to something outside of yourself. You have to be willing to sacrifice. The right wing's belief that if every one simply pursues their own individual interest the "invisible hand" will assure that the public interest is served doesn't work in practice -- a lesson delivered graphically by the 2008 crash of Wall Street. But more important, it doesn't address our overwhelming need to live lives that mean something.
Eight years ago, my wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, decided that -- as painful as it was -- she should attend the swearing in of George W. Bush. I accompanied her and sat with the other Congressional spouses. Most of the spouses that year were Republicans women who were decked out in diamonds and furs. Bush's speech was pretty unremarkable, with few applause lines - at least until he called for tax cuts. With that the fur bedecked spouse section leapt to its feet and gave the new president a standing ovation. How far we had come from "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
The last eight years have demonstrated that true patriotism isn't about xenophobia. It isn't about "where's mine". It isn't about Bush's call on everyone to "go shop" after September 11. Patriotism is about commitment to other people - and willingness to sacrifice for the common good. And that's why President Elect Obama chose to commemorate Martin Luther King Day- his last day before taking the oath - by calling on Americans to participate in a day of service.
Second, Obama -- his campaign and his transition - have been unequivocal in their willingness to hold up and unapologetically celebrate the principles that lie at the heart of traditional progressive American values: unity not division; hope and optimism not fear and cynicism; tolerance not prejudice; that it's the right thing to help your neighbor not just yourself; that we're all in this together -- not all in this alone.
They have refused to allow the right wing to claim the symbols of America for their nationalistic, exclusionary vision of "patriotism". Instead Obama has reattached those symbols to the traditional progressive values that have always defined what is best in America. In his new book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, political strategist and author Mike Lux documents that tradition and challenges us all to be part of creating its next chapter.
Third, the new patriotism results from relief. Americans are relieved that they once again can be proud of the way their government acts in the world. Obama has pledged unequivocally to end torture, secret prisons, the practice of capturing people on the streets of foreign nations to "rendition" them (or disappear them) to other countries. He has pledged to end the Neo-Con doctrines of unilateralism and pre-emptive war. In other words he has pledge to return America to its standing as a moral leader in the world -- a country that holds fast to the principles of human rights - a country that understands that if our children are to be prosperous and free, the children of every nation must have that opportunity as well. Americans are relieved that in our dealings with the world, we have returned to the progressive principles elaborated by John Kennedy in his inaugural address 48 years ago:
Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" -- a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Finally, the election of Obama makes us proud of ourselves. We are proud that we have elected the first African American president. We are proud that from the all-white "Norman Rockwell" communities of Iowa; to the roadside bar with "Rednecks for Obama" on the marquee; to the suburbs of Philadelphia -- our fellow Americans have been willing to put centuries of prejudice behind them. And we are proud that we have reaffirmed America's founding principle: that we are a society that truly believes that all human beings are created equal; that America truly is a society where every child, of whatever background, can aspire to be President of the United States -- or anything else he or she wants to be.
Tomorrow will be a day that Americans will remember for years to come. It will be a day when most Americans -- whatever their partisan bent -- will feel particularly good about our country. But it will also be a day when people around the globe look at America differently than they did the day before. And they too will be inspired that everyday Americans mobilized successfully to take our country back -- that America did not fail them. The world will celebrate that we chose to chart a future governed by the American principles that they have long admired -- not the arrogance and selfishness they had come to loath.
So tomorrow the celebration will not be limited to the mall in Washington, or the inaugural events that that exploded across our country. America flags will be waved by people of every background, on every continent. Tomorrow will be a day to be especially proud to be an American -- an American citizen of a new World.
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.