12/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Patriotism Reclaimed by a Fake American

Hello, my name is Jeff Schweitzer, and I am a Fake American. I have been Fake now for 22 months. I just take one day at a time. I am doing the best I can. I think often about Real America, but realize I can never go back. I know that if I blindly wave the flag again I will not be able to stop. I understand that if I again question the patriotism of my opponents, I condemn myself to a lifetime addiction to mindless jingoism.

Real America. Real Americans. Real Virginia. Attacking the patriotism of a political rival is a vile act, the product of a small mind ignorant of our history and blind to the fundamentals of democracy. Keep that in mind as Sarah Palin contemplates a run for president in 2012. Almost 65% of Republicans want her to run. We cannot afford to relax even in the face of Obama's historic victory.

Surely the ugliest legacy of the presidential campaign was this resurgence of the right-wing Republican idea of a patriotic "real America" battling against the evils of leftist ideology. Palin went so far as speaking of "pro-American areas of this great nation" leading to the inevitable conclusion that regions of the country are anti-American. Her good friend Joe the Plumber said that McCain was the "real American" in the election.

McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenauer said that Northern Virginia is not the "real Virginia." Given the opportunity to distance herself from the comment, she stood by the original statement. Joe McCain, the candidate's brother, called this region "communist country."

But Palin/McCain advisers and their ever-present unlicensed plumber friend were not alone. Representative Robin Hayes said that "liberals hate real Americans that (sic) work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." Representative Michele Bachmann boldly declared that Obama was "very anti-American." But she went further, raising the specter of McCarthy by calling on major newspapers to investigate her colleagues in the House to "find out if they are pro-America or anti-America." Bachmann failed to define how a congressman might fall into one category or the other. I suspect that would be the mandate for the new House Un-American Activities Committee. Continuing the Joe McCarthy theme, Republicans also called Obama a Marxist, communist, socialists and, by association, a domestic terrorist.

What is most striking about these divisive attacks are their asymmetry. Note dear reader that nobody in the Obama campaign, and no Democrat in the House or Senate, ever called McCain, Palin or a Republican member of the Congress unpatriotic, un-American or anti-America. The Democrats called Senator McCain... Senator McCain. The contrast could not be greater, or more revealing about character.

Extremist Republicans continue to harbor the corrosive notion that only right-wing supporters love this country, and that any opponents by definition are anti-American. Ignoring the incredible arrogance of that idea, consider the inherent dangers of such nonsense. By denigrating opponents, these extremists remove the opportunity for debate or possibility of finding effective solutions to our most pressing problems. By questioning a rival's love of country, right-wing ideologues reduce public discourse and politics to the level of religious orthodoxy. Being convinced that god is on your side leaves no room for discussion.

Reducing politics to religion has other pernicious effects besides fostering ersatz patriotism. Trying to play to his religious base, McCain endangered our country with his selection for vice president. Be clear that opposition to Palin has absolutely nothing to do with gender. Asking Palin to wait in the wings to serve as leader of the most powerful nation on earth is like throwing a novice flyer into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 and asking him to fly the plane. Whether the new pilot was male or female, I would not get on that aircraft. Nor would I want a first year medical student to perform brain surgery on me, whether the doctor was man or woman. Palin was simply unqualified, and McCain grossly irresponsible for selecting her. He did so because he confused politics with orthodoxy. He confused opposition with anti-Americanism. He confused patriotism with mindless support.

We can hope that Obama's election was a repudiation of these sick attacks on patriotism and love of country. But probably not. Remember that 49 million Americans were willing to risk the possibility of a Palin presidency, and Palin led the pack of those attacking our patriotism. We must remain vigilant. In the meantime, I am going to rejoice in the defeat of dark forces and proudly reclaim my mantle of patriot.