* No True Patriot: A Commentary Now in Two Parts

The first part of this piece was a commentary on the NPR station in my region. The second part of it I added subsequently.

(The radio commentary can be heard here: www.publicbroadcasting.net/wmra/news.newsmain/article/0/3507/1776933/Civic.Soapbox/No.True.Patriot.)


No True Patriot


Andy Schmookler

Many conservatives nowadays have been persuaded that the liberal approach to governance deserves no respect, that it is something alien to the real America and that “No compromise!” is an appropriate stance to take when dealing with liberal proposals.

No true patriot should support this dismissive attitude—not if patriotism requires honoring the vision of our nation’s founders.

Our founders did not give us a government of ayatollahs, possessing some exclusive truth. Rather, they gave us a democratic process by which we as a people can search together for our best way forward.

They believed that out of that conversation –out of the competition in the marketplace of ideas—we the people, endowed with the capacity for reason, could reach good decisions.

Over generations of that competition of ideas, roughly half the American body politic has embraced the liberal approach to the organization of society—a mixture of market forces and government policy, a belief that government has a necessary role to play in shaping our society.

This has been no fleeting whim. American liberalism has unfolded with great continuity: Obama’s health care reform is of the same cloth as FDR’s Social Security and LBJ’s Medicare.

Liberalism is an enduring part of America’s body of thought and values, just like the persistent principles of American conservatism. To treat either as unworthy of respect, as an alien element suitable only to be fought and defeated, is to betray our founders’ concept of how the will of the people is to emerge from the democratic process.

To hate liberalism is to hate a part of America’s heart.

It is also to ignore American history. When some conservatives bewail the loss of the America they grew up in, what is that America they’re hankering for? Chances are, the America they long for is one in which the liberal spirit was ascendant.

If it is conservatism that has dominated for the past thirty years, surely it was liberalism that was dominant from the beginnings of the FDR presidency in 1933 onward for some four decades. And that time of liberalism’s ascendancy may also have been the time of America’s greatest glory.

Was there ever an era of greater achievement than after the triumph of World War II, when America led the creation of a wise international order. Never was America more beloved in the world than in the era of the Marshall Plan, which revived war-torn Europe and saved it from communism. Never did America invest more wisely in its people than with the G.I. Bill of rights, building a strong middle class.

It is because of the fruits of American liberalism that the old are not destitute, that the sick are not left untended, that the children of the poor are educated, that whole races are not condemned to second-class citizenship.

That’s why no true patriot should show contempt for the liberal part of America’s political life—not if a patriot is someone who takes pride in the glories of his country.


The foregoing is what I would say to the decent conservatives I know who have been persuaded to adopt that contemptuous attitude toward liberalism. But an important question remains: What of the persuaders? Why has today’s “conservative” political leadership sought to inculcate this scorn in its followers?
Here’s my take.

Imagine that you are part of a political force that does not want to be bound by the American political ideal in which different factions find ways to cooperate to meet the nation’s challenges.

Imagine that you don’t want to pay a political price for trying, even with the nation in crisis, to make the president from the other side fail. Imagine further that you want to seem righteous, not despicable, if you try to prevent the “other side” from having any record of achievement by repealing whatever accomplishments you were not able to block.

Imagine above all that your goals include transferring power and wealth from average Americans to those already powerful and wealthy. And that you judge that you can achieve such a goal only by dividing groups of Americans against each other so bitterly that the American people will be unable to act together, on the basis of their shared values, to protect their common interests.

For all these purposes, it is hard to conceive of a more effective strategy than to persuade your followers that the people on the other side of the political divide are so beyond the pale –so un-American as to border on being betrayers of the nation– that no good can possibly come from dealing with them in any cooperative way, that complete enmity is the patriotic position.

Andy Schmookler, author of the prize-winning book The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, is running for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the most Republican district in Virginia.

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  1. A simple summing up – money plus marketing.

  2. The one thing outstanding I have noticed about the so-called progressives

    is the confusion re DEFINITIONS .

    And a distorted definition of SIGNIFICANT terms marks them as ‘different’

    and Really Different !


    • I would define patriotism as a devotion to serving and preserving the best in one’s country. (This fits with the Aristotelian definition of friendship, in terms of the good of the friend.)

      How would you like to see patriotism defined, David R. “My country right or wrong”? Chest-thumping nationalism? Our side ueber alles?

      I see my campaign as an exercise in patriotism, as it is dedicated to Upholding the Ideals of American Democracy.

  3. A Patriot is heart first for his native(or adopted) land regardless of internal differences of the hour -or period.

    A patriot might strongly disagree with current policies but
    he has never burned a flag.

    A true patriot also would never ridicule a sitting President
    as has gone in in recent years (both democrat and republican).

    Few patriots seem to be out on the public scene today although some in the military may have been persuaded current ‘wars’ are actually in ‘defense’ of their country.
    A young Marine of my personal acquaintance was killed in Afghanistan this May on his third tour. The Memorial service is tomorrow.. He is eulogized in today’s Letters to the Editor by the Principal of his Christian High School. I saw him between tours; he was changed and a remarkably serious young man. He was proud to be a Marine and surely felt being a Marine was being a true Patriot.
    Being young and believing his leaders he was doing what Patriots have always done.

    • A true patriot also would never ridicule a sitting President as has gone in in recent years

      I don’t know if you’re singling out “ridicule” as verboten for a patriot. But I’ve known you long enough, David R., that you have been willing to impugn with intensity the moral character of a sitting president. For which, to be sure, I in no way find fault with you.

      But I wonder, given what you’ve said, if you think that makes you the less a patriot.

      I also wonder what you think that a German patriot should have done, in relation to his country’s ruling government, during the years 1933-1945. Were the Germans who sought to help the Americans and British win the war less patriotic Germans than those who wore the swatstika and those who fought beneath that banner?

  4. The open ridicule of the current president and even his wife is nothing but evil.

    Finding fault with his ideas and policies of President Obama, Bush or any other is a different matter.

    Joining forces with those you sincerely believe are truly LIBERATING your land is risky; joining forces with those who are conquering your land is treasonous.

    • Joining forces with those you sincerely believe are truly LIBERATING your land is risky; joining forces with those who are conquering your land is treasonous.

      So were the Germans who helped the Allies during WW II traitors, or patriots, or what?

      What do you think God would have wanted a German to do in that era– definitions of patriotism aside?

  5. If they were aware of the atrocities they might put humanity above patriotism.

    In such a case,the issue of ‘patriotism’ might not apply.

    But their nation did lose much of its sovereignty as ‘the allies’ divided it up for decades. So patriotism was sacrificed to ‘humanity’ in such a case..

  6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed Hitler for “God’ and the church. He went so far as to join in a conspiracy to assasinate Hitler for the ‘good’ of Germany.

    ‘God’ allowed Bonhoeffer to be hanged naked. One week later Germany surrendered.

    There is a lesson there for those who look to God.

    as well as Germany was a lesson for the Jews in particular (among others).

    Do you think they have drawn the correct lesson ?

  7. The founding of the United States, as well as the development of its constitution 13 years later, were in the liberal mainstream. In fact history, I would hazard an assertion, probably considers the coming of the United States on the scene as the single most liberal event in human history. People the world round see it that way; historians likewise. The US is itself a defiance of conservatism in the era of its founding and constituition, and in the long narative of civilization. That the US could lose its liberal heritage anytimwe in the future would be one of the moral tragedies of humankind, as this nation and its liberal heritage serve as a beacon of hope for billions.

  8. David R. — What lesson do you see for the Jews in Germany of WWII?

    • Kim, that question certainly does arise out of David R’s comments. But I held back from posing it myself, thinking that it might not be a constructive thing to go for that bait. Sometimes I think that David R is so enamored of being provocateur that he is willing to bring forth ugly things to achieve that end.

  9. Jim Z, I see we are back to the matter of true and correct definitions.

    We have sometime back noted clearly that modern ‘progressivism’ is NOT in the same vein of movements in the past where a united majority has prevailed against a controlling minority thus contibuting to the liberty and well being of a
    society as a whole and united.

    I accept that today ‘progressives’ have disconnected from common sense reason
    and the relevance of tradition and traditional concepts of normalcy.

    Just a little note or reminder.

  10. I truly believe I am being honest re my religion and the failings of modern conservatism(to my sorrow and past consternation).

    Is it rallly provocative to courteously invite others to do likewise ?

    If so, why so ? Am I truly naive re the reservations necessary for some to function in the current social/political, ah, whatever it is today ?

    • Your penchant, David R., for making oblique allusions and vague gestures creates confusions that perhaps unnecessarily become troublesome.

      If I were to try to put the best, more benign interpretation on your comments here, I would venture that what you are saying is this:

      “The policies of Israel toward the Palestinian people are not those of wisdom, justice, and mercy. I find fault with those policies. Moreover, one would wish that a people –like the Jews, who suffered what they suffered at the hands of the Nazis in the years just prior to the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel– that had a historic experience like that of the Jews during World War II, would be ESPECIALLY sensitive to the need for the more powerful party to deal with another people compassionately. In that sense, Israeli policy toward the Palestinians represents a failure to “learn the lessons” that the Jewish experience of World War II should have taught.”

      Is that indeed your point?

      If it is, I would say that I could agree, in general, with every statement in that paragraph.

      I would strongly state, however, that it should not be taken to suggest that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is really meaningfully comparable to the German treatment of the Jews, nor even to how the Nazi regime treated just about EVERYBODY who came under their domination. In that sense, the comparison is grotesque. The Israeli injustices toward the Palestinians are real, but they are more at the level of injustices one can find all over the planet– such as the Chinese treatment of some of their non-Han peoples, to name one.

      Another caveat: the Palestinians are not innocent victims here. The history I won’t debate, but there is a history, not much understood on the left, in which Abba Eban’s comment that “the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” points to a mutuality of fault.

      And one more. While I would deeply criticize the present policy of the Israeli government, and while it is the government of the Jewish state, I do not think their short-sighted and often mean-spirited policies exist as an EXPRESSION OF THE RELIGION in the same way that the Religious Right in America is and sees itself to be a religious expression. There IS an orthodox Jewish element in the picture, but most of the political establishment, including this Likkud government, and most of the electorate is not a religiously motivated lot. Netanyahu is not a religious Jew, so far as I know, nor was Sharon.

      Similarly, though Dick Cheney is of Christian background, HIS imperialistic impulses are not an expression of Christianity. With Bush, it may well have been different.

      But getting back to the point of the lessons learned…. As I see it, Israel was founded by a group with experience of persecution in Europe, mostly pre-Nazi. That group was, I believe, MORE HUMANE than the Israeli establishment of today. Israel –more than 60 years after its founding– has become a country much more shaped by its experience in that region than the Israel of its beginnings. That experience –frequent war, perennial threat, uncompromising neighbors, ‘a rough neighborhood”– has not improved the character of the people.

      Brokenness begets brokenness.

      One last comment: one would always WISH for victims to become more compassionate from their experience, but it often happens otherwise. I learned recently about Liberia: founded by American slaves returned to Africa, those ex-slaves proceeded to enslave the Africans they found there in that territory.

      People tend to recapitulate the ways they have experienced the world to operate. Abused children become child abusers.

      A tragedy, but it’s a crucial part of the larger human tragedy in history.


  11. Thank you, Andrew B Schmookler

  12. “We have sometime back noted clearly that modern ‘progressivism’ is NOT in the same vein of movements in the past where a united majority has prevailed against a controlling minority thus contibuting to the liberty and well being of a
    society as a whole and united.”

    American revolutionaries in the late 18th century were not in the majority — as far as I know approximately 1/3 of the population.

  13. Oops. I guess I should have said “about 1/3 of the European immigrant population”. Again as far as I know the Native American population was also split between allies of the revolutionaries and allies of the loyalists/British. But I don’t have a sense of the proportion in that case.

  14. David R., I of course in no way accept your assertion, but you’re welcome to it anyway.

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