I just read an article on Politico discussing Cindy McCain’s emerging new role in the campaign as she transitions from the reserved but supportive wife with minimal involvement, to another republican pit bull with lipstick. It’s noble of her to step up her efforts and help her husband try to resuscitate his ailing campaign. But her approach just reinforces the increasingly evident fact that the GOP just doesn’t get what this election is all about.
After two weeks of dismal polls you would think the republicans would have figured out by now that vitriol does not trump substance and angst does not substitute for relevancy. Sure, there is a certain “base” of conservative voters that love nothing more than to work themselves up into a hysterical frenzy, shouting epithets like “Terrorist!” and “Socialist!” or even “Muslim!”. There is no doubt that these folks eat up the pit bull tactics but really, were these people’s votes ever in question? Does stoking the emotional fervor of a group who was already going to vote for you anyway really accomplish anything politically?
Cindy McCain made the statement “I have always been proud of my country”, implicitly taking a jab at Michelle Obama. Well of course it’s always been easy for her to feel proud of her country. She is a child of privilege. She’s white. She’s never been made to feel like less of a human being because of her socio-economic status or skin color. In short, her country has always been very good to her. Other Americans can’t say the same thing but that doesn’t make them less American. Turning a blind eye to reality is not a patriotic act. This country is great but not perfect and it doesn’t make one a traitor to acknowledge the imperfections and even to express a little righteous anger when you’ve been on the wrong side of our nations flaws.
The right wing implicitly tries to label anyone who disagrees with their narrow perspective as un-American. Apparently they would have us live in a homogenous society where nobody questions the traditional values of the state and every good and patriotic citizen conforms to the status quo. But wait a minute…doesn’t that smell a little like communism?
Despite our alleged “Christian values”, this nation has been responsible for a number of stunning acts against humanity. I wonder how the conservative traditionalists reacted to the first person who spoke out against slavery. Time and again I’ve wondered how Christian America accepted slavery as a legitimate social arrangement. Actually, I don’t wonder. I can hear it now as the first few brave souls who questioned slavery were labeled anti-American, unpatriotic and even un-Christian. Interestingly, the first people that did speak out against slavery were Quakers from Pennsylvania – or, as the fundamentalist Christians called them – hellbound sinners of a false faith.
I’m digressing but it bears mentioning that the Bible and religion in America have been used to justify numerous atrocities, from slavery to war to not allowing women to vote. Somebody stood up to question each of these and in each case was labeled as a threat to normal and decent society and yes, as unpatriotic. They were labeled as dangerous radicals and were not only verbally attacked but were physically attacked and even killed…by good, upstanding and patriotic Christian citizens.
Am I unpatriotic for bringing these things up? Am I unpatriotic for questioning the actions of my government and acknowledging injustice and inequity when I see them? I wonder if a man who acknowledges that he has a drinking problem should be labeled as self-loathing for recognizing his addiction.
What the republicans and the far right fails to recognize is that admitting one’s faults and failures is a strength not a weakness. It’s how you get better. It’s how America became great in the first place. We’ve made some mistakes in the past and we are making some in the present and the true patriots are the people who can recognize this and acknowledge when change is needed. There are people who fear and will fight a change in the status quo. These are the people at the top, the elite, the Cindy McCain’s.
Apparently there are two kinds of elite when it comes to the political argument. There are the Cindy McCain’s and the George W. Bush’s who were born into wealth and privilege; they are elite. And then there are the other ‘elites’. The Michelle and Barack Obama’s who weren’t born into any kind of privilege and worked against all odds to obtain degrees from prestigious universities –institutions normally reserved for the first kind of elite – are the second kind of elite. It should not be surprising at all that the second kind of elites would be more prone to making valid criticisms of their country. It hasn’t coddled them because of their birthright but in fact has done the opposite. Does this make them unpatriotic? I’d argue that the answer is no. It makes them honest. The truth isn’t always pretty and as a rule, the truth is going to upset someone.
America can still be a great country. I’m not proud of what has become of us over the past eight years and if it makes me unpatriotic to criticize and hold accountable those who were responsible, then let me state here for the record that I am proud to be unpatriotic. This country is growing and changing right now and it’s going to make some people very uncomfortable. That first breed of elites will fight change tooth and claw but the rest of us…well, we will welcome it.
Cindy McCain, call me any name you like. You and I live in two different Americas and we have two very different definitions of patriotism.