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Book of Matthew: To be a liberal and a patriot

Published: February 13, 2009
Section: Opinions


 

 

I’m sure by now most of you know my friend and fellow editor Jordan Rothman, author of the controversial weekly column, “One Tall Voice.”

Last week, Jordan wrote about his ideological journey toward conservatism and the influential people, events, and writings that helped him along the way. I found it to be an interesting read; in fact, amid the slightly-taller-than-usual adolescent political reasoning I found one passage that stuck out in particular.

He writes:

“I don’t want to say that Liberals are not patriotic, but conservatives perhaps display their affection more openly for our country… I now have a 6X4 foot flag in my room, display a copy of the Gettysburg Address, and have never been afraid of my patriotic sentiments.”

Ah, yes. The old patriotism debate. We’ve been hearing arguments like this one since the days of Reagan, if not before that.

I would like to respond to Jordan’s claim, but out of respect for his feelings, I will try to avoid the ad hominem attacks that are typically utilized by his many critics. Instead, I will do as he did, and share some of my own history…

I was not always a liberal. When I first came to Brandeis a year and a half ago, I considered myself a “moderate” (at least, I did on Facebook). Like many Brandeis students, I was still a member of the Democratic Party, and I was reasonably liberal when it came to social and economic issues. The problem was, unlike most of the campus, I was an Iraq war supporter.

I use the term “supporter” lightly, however. I was never a fan of former President Bush, I didn’t buy his wartime sales pitch: that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD’s and was a threat to America, and I never thought Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks on September 11th. No, my reasons were much simpler; much more, dare I say it, idealistic. I thought supporting the war was the patriotic thing to do, plain and simple as that. My old history books—full to bursting with black-and-white snapshots of our victorious GIs fighting the Second World War—had shown me what a nation can do when its people are committed to supporting the war effort. In my mind, that was what we Americans had to do again. Support our military and our government. Fight the good fight. My country, right or wrong.

Surely, you can spot the gaping holes in my adolescent logic. It took me a bit longer.

Once at Brandeis, I dove right in. I began writing the very column that you are reading now. And of course, some of the first ones that I published were comprised of the adolescent logic that I was dying to bring to readers all over campus. The Democrats are fools, I said. Almost traitorous, for even daring to put a stop to the war that we should be winning.

It’s funny how putting ideas on paper can sometimes make their flaws painfully obvious.

I only ever wrote two articles about the war, and I have made little more than passing mentions to it in my writings ever since. You see, after writing those articles, I stopped living in my stars-and-stripes fantasy world. I started learning.

Through reading, listening, and debating, I learned a lesson that most of my fellow students at Brandeis take for granted, but one that many conservatives like Jordan have failed to grasp. I learned that America is not always right, that it is not necessarily “the greatest nation on Earth,” and that we as citizens should not feel the need to parrot our superiority for all the pissed-off peoples of the world to hear. We are better off acting like responsible members of a democratic society: fully prepared to see the wrongs being committed all around us and say, “This is wrong.”

Should I have learned this lesson a long time ago? Probably. But I like to think that my change of heart came better late than never.

And so, months after gracing The Hoot’s op-ed pages with my warmongering columns, I found myself marching in the student Iraq war protest held last spring. I can now honestly say that I have a newfound respect for those few lawmakers who in 2003 resisted a popular president and his call for an unjust war. More importantly, I have an immense respect for the small percentage of Americans who opposed the war from the very beginning, despite being labeled by their “patriotic” neighbors as traitors. I am now proud to call myself a liberal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country, the land of my birth, as much as any American. But unlike conservatives, my fellow liberals and I acknowledge that love is blind. Giant flags and patriotic quotes may at first convey appreciation for our nation, but in the end they are little more than excuses for ignorance. The true patriot does not recite. He thinks.

Jordan may be proud of his 6X4 American flag on his wall, and that’s fine for him. But my walls will stay bare. Instead, I will keep my copy of the Constitution—the backbone of our free republic—on my bookshelf within easy reach. That, and a place to write, is all this liberal American needs.