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"Any debate over patriotism must account for the contrasting roles of liberals and conservatives in America's bloodiest conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to World War II. Political forces identified with the right -- Tories, Confederates, isolationists -- undermined the Republic and consorted with the nation's foreign enemies." -- Joe Conason

Who Are the True Patriots?

"The use of the vocabulary of treason is a measure of how thoroughly conservatives have transferred the passions of anticommunism into an internal war against those whom they think of as the enemies of American culture and values. And these were, as I recall from the 1960s, the same people who decried the loss of civility." -- Princeton professor Paul Starr, quoted by Eric Alterman

"Of all the pernicious claptrap emitted by right-wing propagandists, none is more offensive than smearing liberals and Democrats as unpatriotic. The portrayal of a liberal elite that despises its own country has allowed conservatives to appropriate the flag, the national anthem, and other national symbols -- the heritage of every American -- as their movement's private property, and to misuse those symbols for narrow partisan purposes. To the extremists, anyone who doesn't pledge allegiance to the Republican platform is a 'traitor.' Rank-and-file reactionaries out in the red-state hinterland may believe this tripe, but the Republican insiders know better. Living in major cities like New York and Washington, they can't avoid knowing liberals who have proudly served in the military, revere the Constitution and the flag, and share the values of liberty and democracy -- who are, indeed, just as patriotic as any conservative. That knowledge only makes their promotion of this slanderous myth more shameful. Like so much rightist cant, 'liberals hate America' is a slogan designed to confuse and inflame the ignorant. And like many another successful frame-up, this one grossly exaggerates a small fact. On the far left there does exist a handful of annoying academics and activists -- typified by Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark -- whose ideas about America and the world haven't changed much since the seventies. Their politics hark back to a period when the criminal excesses of the Cold War in Indochina, Latin America, and southern Africa had alienated many young Americans from our country.

"The overwhelming majority of those young people never contemplated any kind of unpatriotic act, and those who remained active in politics took up the challenge of democratic reform. As for the remnant of ultraleftists, whether they love America or not is for them to say. What they surely detest -- as they would be the first to affirm -- is American liberalism. That's what conservatives always forget (or pretend to forget) when quoting left-wing literature to prove that liberals hate and blame America. Distinguishing fringe factions from the progressive majority is essential to wiping away the 'anti-American' smear against liberals. It is a task complicated by the fact that, as a matter of constitutional principle, liberals consistently uphold the civil liberties of radicals at both ends of the spectrum. It's simple for conservatives to look patriotic by threatening dissenters or amending the Constitution to ban obnoxious behavior like flag-burning. But what could be more fundamentally American and patriotic than the liberal commitment to defend all of the freedoms symbolized by the Stars and Stripes? The relentless disparagement of liberal patriotism by right-wing ideologues is an attempt to punish that commitment to free speech, and an abandonment of traditional American values of fair play and civic decency. There is nothing truly conservative about the conservatives' compulsion to divide the nation for their own political gain. There is nothing patriotic about perverting the natural love of country into suspicion, bitterness, and hostility." -- Joe Conason

"Although 'right' and 'left' weren't the categories of political debate when the thirteen colonies broke free from England, there isn't much doubt that the leading instigators of the American Revolution -- and in particular the Declaration of Independence -- were the 'left-wingers' of that extraordinary historic moment. They were the original liberals, and several of them, most notably Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were also the founders of the Democratic Party. The nation's founders disagreed about issues ranging from debt to slavery, but among the most active and prolific of them were men who can only be defined as progressive. What other description fits Samuel Adams, populist organizer of the Boston Tea Party, or Thomas Paine, author of the revolutionist pamphlet 'Common Sense,' who both openly declared their contempt for monarchy and aristocracy? Paine was a self-taught but farsighted thinker whose classic liberal manifesto, Rights of Man, proposed such innovations as free public education, child welfare, and income security long before they became reality here or in his native England. The popular republicanism advocated by the patriots Adams, Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin was considered a radical doctrine in the colonial era. The 'right-wingers' of the Revolutionary era were the Tories, of course. They were in thrall to the British crown and feared that change would deprive them of their privileges. After the British retreat, they were widely reviled and punished; a number were hanged; many were beaten, driven from their homes, expelled into Canada, or shipped back to England. In their assistance to the occupying army of George III, the Tories were viewed by most of the new Americans as traitors. Today, modern conservatives like to talk about their 'strict construction' of the law based on the Constitution, as if the men who wrote that document still speak directly to Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They revere the aristocratic, reactionary Edmund Burke and ignore the democratic workingman Tom Paine, and they try to claim the principles of the Revolution as an endorsement of their own doctrines of privilege. But only from the perspective of two centuries of ideological shift can the republican faith of the Founding Fathers be depicted as 'conservative' -- and the fit is poor." -- Joe Conason

"The Civil War, too, was a struggle between left and right. Today's rightists still cherish Dixie, as if the barbarous cruelty and feudal culture of the Old South represented a lost Eden. Academics will argue forever about the Civil War's economic and social origins, but it was undeniably liberals like William Lloyd Garrison and Horace Greeley who sought to abolish slavery and preserve the Union. The conservatives who sought to dissolve the Union wanted to preserve and extend slavery; not only did they try to ruin the nation before it was a century old, but they turned to the throne of England for assistance. When Lincoln was President, the Union properly indicted the Confederate leaders and their northern supporters as traitors (an epithet now generally avoided out of concern for delicate southern sensibilities). Amazingly, there remains a strong emotional reverence for the symbols of the Confederacy, not only among the Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, and skinhead Nazis, but among certain Republican politicians and intellectuals as well. They nurture a political cult of neo-Confederates, diehard defenders of secession and states' rights. Aside from romanticizing the Old South, neo-Confederates tend to advocate a regional brand of conservatism that is chauvinistic, hostile to immigrants, and often blatantly bigoted against blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and Asians. Like Strom Thurmond and his followers, who abandoned the Democratic Party in 1948 during the early struggle over civil rights, the neo-Confederates are Republicans now. The GOP reciprocates this support by pretending not to notice their Dixie flags, their racial obsessions, and their scurrilous attitude towards Lincoln. The loyalties of the neo-Confederates are uncertain. According to Clyde Wilson, a leading neo-Confederate ideologue and professor at the University of South Carolina, these devotees of Dixie should feel no loyalty to the United States at all." -- Joe Conason

Before and during World War II, many conservatives lined up with the America First movement, which opposed any intervention against Nazism in Europe. "Though heavily camouflaged behind a phalanx of American flags and loud patriotic speeches, America First was eventually exposed as a haven for German and Japanese agents plotting against the US government. For a time, these admirers and appeasers of Hitler found themselves in a kind of alliance with the Communists, who initially opposed American entry into World War II under orders from Stalin. During the critical years when Britain was resisting the Nazi onslaught, the only reliable opposition to fascism was mounted by the union-based, multiethnic, and quintessentially liberal New Deal coalition. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, most conservatives dropped their isolationism and joined the war effort. Yet more than a few on the far right continued to promote defeatism and appeasement. In 1942 the Justice Department convicted twenty-eight American Nazi sympathizers of sedition. The grand jury investigation that led to their indictment revealed that George Sylvester Viereck, the most active German agent in Washington, had been operating out of the offices of a respectable Republican congressman from an old New York family."

"With all due respect to neoconservatives and other late arrivals, the historical roots of postwar conservatism -- the 'Old Right' of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan -- can be traced back to these domestic instruments of the Axis. (Coddling Nazis was a hallmark of both men's careers.) The Buckleys, founders of the National Review, were notorious in Connecticut for their fanatical isolationism. Human Events, the weekly chronicle of the far right that first recognized Ann Coulter's literary talent, was founded in 1944 by a group of the most rabid prewar isolationists. They included W.H. Regnery Sr., the patriarch of the nation's premier conservative publishing house and a principal financier, along with assorted right-wing industrialists and bankers, of the America First movement." While most modern conservatives have done their level best to make the citizenry forget all about the America First movement, Pat Buchanan still celebrates its principles and has adopted its name as his own slogan. "Intellectual and political pedigrees still matter, as the conservatives who supposedly venerate national traditions always insist. Only the most selective reading of history can support the right-wing claim that they are the sole true patriots. And only Americans' collective amnesia permits the right to tighten its grasp on the flag, the national anthem, and the whole panoply of patriotic expression, while denying liberals and progressives the heritage they have every right to share." -- Joe Conason

"Among prominent conservatives of the Vietnam generation, the kind of hypocritical posturing symbolized by [Pat] Buchanan and [Rush] Limbaugh [both of whom dodged military service through bogus medical claims] is so widespread that they have acquired a derogatory nickname: 'chicken hawks.' Right-wing draft evasion first emerged as an embarrassing issue in 1988, when reporters delved into the personal history of the handsome young senator nominated for vice president at the GOP convention. Thanks to the influence of his father, Indiana's most powerful newspaper publisher and an ardent editorial proponent of the war, Dan Quayle had spent the Vietnam years improving his excellent golf swing while holding down a desk job at Indiana National Guard headquarters. ...The story of Quayle's privileged berth in the National Guard dominated news coverage of his nomination at the New Orleans convention and produced much commentary in the weeks that followed."

"Twelve years later, little attention was paid to the strikingly similar story of George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, a sojourn that had likewise protected him from the Vietnam draft. About to graduate from Yale and lose his student deferment, he obviously felt no overwhelming urge to fight in the bloody jungle conflict that his father -- then a Republican congressman -- would someday blast Bill Clinton for avoiding. ...In 2002 a few journalists asked the Bush campaign to account for his near-total absence from duty during the final two years of the six-year stint he agreed to serve." Although no evidence that he completed his service has ever surfaced, and more and more evidence continues to emerge that Bush deliberately blew off his duty and was given an "honorable discharge" as a favor to his powerful family, the media by and large accepted Bush's version of events and never seriously investigated his dereliction of his duty.

"Despite all the remarkable contradictions between his military service and his self-serving stories, and despite the plentiful evidence that he had shirked a year of his service and then lied about it, the 'liberal media' never subjected Bush to the searing interrogation inflicted on Quayle in 1988 and Clinton in 1992. ...Nobody insisted that he hold press conferences to explain himself. Pundits dismissed the issue when they mentioned it at all. The cultural assumption that Republicans are paragons of flag-saluting martial virtue is rarely challenged, regardless of reality. ...The long, distinguished list of Republican tough guys who never served descends from Vice President Cheney, who has explained that he had 'other priorities' during Vietnam, all the way down to Limbaugh, who frequently impugns the patriotism of liberal veterans like Tom Daschle. It includes former Majority Leader [Trent] Lott; former Speaker [Newt] Gingrich and his successor, Denny Hastert; the two Texans who actually ran the House after Gingrich's departure, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey; White House political advisor Karl Rove; and Phil Gramm, the senior senator from Texas who retired in 2002." Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft ditched Vietnam service by teaching business law at a Springfield, Missouri college; all told, Ashcroft received eight deferments between 1963 and 1969. DeLay claims that he wanted to serve, but all the available slots were taken up by minority applicants, leaving him unable to join the military.

"Of course, there are many honorable Republicans who did serve, and many liberal Democrats who didn't. Among the dozens of veterans on the Democratic side of the aisle are Daschle and [John] Kerry; Hawaii Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, who lost an arm and won the Congressional Medal of Honor when the Allies captured Italy; and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who served as a Navy pilot for five years. Until he was defeated in November 2002, the Senate Democratic vets included Max Cleland of Georgia, another Medal of Honor winner who returned from Vietnam without his legs and his right arm. Such a sacrifice is no guarantee of respect from a right-wing opportunist, as Cleland discovered during his last campaign. The wheelchair-bound senator had to listen to Representative Saxby Chambliss, his Republican opponent, cast doubt on his dedication to his country, loudly attacking him 'for breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.'" Chambliss himself dodged Vietnam duty through four student deferments and the claim of a "football injury." -- Joe Conason

"People can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. Tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism." -- Hermann Goering

"Beyond the vexed issues of military service and draft avoidance during Vietnam, American liberals have no reason to be defensive about their role in the nation's defense. A powerful argument can be made that over the past two centuries, the liberal left has done better service to the United States and to American ideals than the conservative right. It's isn't merely that liberals fought for justice and liberty where conservatives repeatedly failed to, in causes ranging from the abolition of child labor to the end of Jim Crow oppression. Any debate over patriotism must account for the contrasting roles of liberals and conservatives in America's bloodiest conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to World War II. Political forces identified with the right -- Tories, Confederates, isolationists -- undermined the Republic and consorted with the nation's foreign enemies. Republicans can't seem to decide whether Democrats are trembling pacifists or furious militarists (a dilemma Bob Dole resolved to his own discredit when he muttered about all the 'Democrat wars; of the twentieth century in a 1976 debate). But liberal internationalism is neither warlike or pacifist; its aim is to advance American interests and principles within a framework of alliances, treaties, and laws. Liberals founded NATO and the other multilateral security institutions, against fierce opposition from the conservative Taft Republicans. Liberals proposed to rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan, creating an economic bulwark against Stalin's expansion to the west and a vital market for American exports. Liberals led the international campaign for human rights that renewed respect for American values around the world." -- Joe Conason

"Does [conservative] describe an administration that has undermined some of our most basic freedoms, gutted laws designed to conserve our natural resources, and led the nation into a war based on fear rather than fact? ...If you think you are a conservative, look at the track record for this administration and ask yourself if it fits the conservative profile of smaller government, a balanced budget and limited foreign entanglements." -- Joan King

"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor. For patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood lust as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood biols with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar." -- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar