Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Green Songs of Patriotism

The last refuge of scoundrels, someone called it. Patriotism, often made synonymous with nationalism.

The negative stereotype of patriotism has to do with expressions of hatred. I will wrap myself in an American flag and vent my hatred of liberals, Mexicans, Arabs, European intellectuals, feminists, or any other group or nation whose opinions conflict with mine. It wins votes. Why is that?

Those who burn the flag are appealing to patriotism, too, just in a different way. They are striking at the symbol of patriotism - the flag itself - because they know it is an emotional target. Again, hatred: hatred of the United States's painful and complex history, hatred of oligarchy, hatred of corporate hegemony, hatred of the suffering of so many people past and present, and the damage done to a beautiful country.

This kind of patriotism is a divisive thing, and it is used that way in elections. It is especially useful in our two-party system (which, by the way, is not Constitutionally-mandated, nor necessarily a good thing).

Moreover, I don't believe this is actually what people want, even though patriotic rhetoric and symbolism gets a huge response from voters. People want a candidate for government to care about them, and to care for where and how they live.

The values of the Green Party are essentially patriotic, in the most positive sense. If the Greens disdain to use the language of patriotism, they will always have to overcome suspicion and thus play into the hands of Republicans and Democrats, who will portray the Greens as "out of touch with the mainstream" and contemptuous of "normal values."

It's amazing that the Greens want to run national political campaigns, and they still haven't caught on to this: The Greens can honestly present themselves as MORE patriotic than a Democratic-Republican duopoly completely sold out to corporations and their lobbyists.

The Greens should unashamedly embrace patriotism as a love of the United States, of its landscape and its people. Yes, love. Affectionate love and stern love alike. A deep respect and love for neighborhoods and communities, for meaningful work, for healthy streams and air, for the legacy that will be inherited by generations to come.

The parties that sponsor welfare for immensely profitable corporations are not patriotic. The parties that send our children (or our parents) into ignoble wars overseas under false pretenses are not patriotic. The parties that sell out our great-grandchildren's future and soil their streams and deplete resources they will need, assuming we are not interested in making changes in our own lifestyle, are not patriotic.

The party that loves and believes in democratic processes; that believes people will make good and just decisions about their neighborhoods (certainly better than a CEO who has never even been to their town and sees it only as a mine to be exploited); that thinks families deserve meaningful work and medicine and good, nutritious food; that loves the landscape and the music and the rich colors and languages of our public; that wants justice and decency for every person here; that wants to give them useful tools and then get out of the way so people can pursue life, liberty, and happiness; is genuinely patriotic and damn it, they should be. Give us more of that patriotism.

If the Green Party is going to squander its money on national campaigns - and I still think they should be focusing intently on broadening its local office-holders, and maybe sending some Congressfolk to Washington - then it should embrace the language of true, positive patriotism.

A beautiful country can be very mixed up, and ours has been from the beginning (tragically so), and yet the foundation for something deeply beautiful exists here. Otherwise there would be no outrage. In no way does patriotism compromise criticisms of our current system, nor should those criticisms be muted. Wendell Berry, highly critical of the North American economy and its destruction of landscape and rural life together, writing from his farm in Kentucky, is a deeply patriotic voice in our culture. Far from despair, he is still writing - and arguing - out of love for a beautiful country.

That, to me, is patriotism. It is time for the Greens to sing love songs, instead of only appealing to the intellect. We have to connect with Americans who think they are fundamentally different than us, and show them that we actually know and like them, their kids, respect their faith and their parents' values, and like this country just as much as they do. Because all of that ought to be true. Otherwise, how well would we represent them?

We are doing this for THEM, right?

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