This week in politics, Democrats and left leaning pundits continued to furrow their collective brows at being called unpatriotic for opposing President Bush. From talking heads on the Mclaughlin Group and other Sunday news shows, to the Democratic Nominee John Kerry himself, Democrats loudly and proudly denounced the vicious attacks on their patriotism launched by right-wing politicians, alleging that opposing Bush is tantamount to being un-American.
One problem: No one is making that accusation.
Leave it to the left to courageously take a stand against an imaginary opponent. To hear Democrats tell it, you’d think there was a massive publicity campaign by the Right that necessitates such a hearty defense. Underwhelmingly, like so many of this year’s election “issues” this particular sore point has more to do with imagination than with reality, more to do with generalized anger than with a specific point.
Take a moment to research the issue for yourself. A quick search on google for the phrases “called unpatriotic” and “tired of being called unpatriotic” results in a tsunami of results, almost all from journalists, bloggers, and the occasional politician, bemoaning an apparent wave of aggression towards their anti-Bush or anti-war positions.
Unsurprisingly, most of these claims are heavy on self-righteous martyrdom and light on evidence. For every exasperated defense of liberal patriotism, one has to search ten times harder to find an actual example of an attack on it. Most of those crying out for an end to such character attacks never bother to actually identify an incident in which such an attack took place. Those very few that do are usually vague and generalized, relying on the accounts of various unnamed friends who have been confronted by rabid right-wingers in an unnamed town for some unnamed reason. A precious handful of such protests refer to one or two select politicians making statements about other specific politicians, and these examples tend to similarly lack any sourcing.
Of course, in a nation of roughly 260 million people, there are sure to be quite a few voices who will find Bush Bashers unpatriotic, un-American, and possibly even inhuman, but the few example incidents that appear to be legitimate do not justify the massive straw-man defense being bandied about by the left.
Maybe this is all some kind of wish fulfillment, some deep-seated need to feel like the underdog who struggles courageously against the unseen “man.” Or maybe we are dealing with some kind of perceived inferiority complex brought on by a previous generation of activists who were renowned for flag burning, supporting communist nations, and in general standing against America. Maybe “I’m tired of being called unpatriotic” is just the political example of a nervous, insecure teenager who keeps asking “are you looking at my braces?” when its quite clear that no one is interested at all.
It is fairly clear that the left is relying heavily on demonizing the right during this election cycle, and it surely helps to think of right-wingers as goose-stepping machines looking to crush any voice of opposition. In a way, the idea of the right denouncing the left as unpatriotic and un-American is very much an idealized scenario, a fairytale perfect situation in which left leaning politicians and activists can paint themselves as the clear “good guys.” The only problem is that there is no Dragon, no jackbooted Army of Darkness coldly marching forward to squelch free speech. In reality, its just one half of a free nation, looking at the other half, shaking its head and saying “what the heck are you thinking?” It’s a simple disagreement, the healthiest of American institutions, and to cast the disagreement as an attack on patriotism and character does a service to no one.
We may not all be embracing each other with mutual respect right now, but McCarthyism this ain’t. There are disagreements, loud, angry disagreements, but this isn’t the Night of the Long Knives. It would do us all a lot of good if we could stop pretending to be martyrs and victims, and start talking like rational human beings. Or better yet, like adults.