Recently I publicly debated a regressive Republican who said Arizona and every other state should use whatever means necessary to keep out illegal immigrants. He also wants English to be spoken in every classroom in the nation, and the pledge of allegiance recited every morning. "We have to preserve and protect America," he said. "That's the meaning of patriotism."
To my debating partner and other regressives, patriotism is about securing the nation from outsiders eager to overrun us. That's why they also want to restore every dollar of the $500 billion in defense cuts scheduled to start in January.
Yet many of these same regressives have no interest in preserving or protecting our system of government. To the contrary, they show every sign of wanting to be rid of it.
In fact, regressives in Congress have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.
The GOP's highest-ranking member of Congress has said his "number one aim" is to unseat President Obama. For more than three years congressional Republicans have marched in lockstep, determined to do just that. They have brooked no compromise.
They couldn't care less if they mangle our government in pursuit of their partisan aims. Senate Republicans have used the filibuster more frequently in this Congress than in any congress in history.
House Republicans have been willing to shut down the government and even risk the full faith and credit of the United States in order to get their way.
Regressives on the Supreme Court have opened the floodgates to unlimited money from billionaires and corporations overwhelming our democracy, on the bizarre theory that money is speech under the First Amendment and corporations are people.
Regressive Republicans in Congress won't even support legislation requiring the sources of this money-gusher be disclosed.
They've even signed a pledge -- not of allegiance to the United States, but of allegiance to Grover Norquist, who has never been elected by anyone. Norquist's "no-tax" pledge is interpreted only by Norquist, who says closing a tax loophole is tantamount to raising taxes and therefore violates the pledge.
True patriots don't hate the government of the United States. They're proud of it. Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it.
But regressive Republicans loathe the government -- and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it, and make the public so cynical about it that it's no longer capable of doing much of anything. Tea Partiers are out to gut it entirely. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size it can be "drowned in a bathtub."
When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, wealthy regressives claim "it's my money." But it's their nation, too. And unless they pay their share America can't meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.
So when regressives talk about "preserving and protecting" the nation, be warned: They mean securing our borders, not securing our society. Within those borders, each of us is on our own. They don't want a government that actively works for all our citizens.
Their patriotism is not about coming together for the common good. It is about excluding outsiders who they see as our common adversaries.
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.