Four years ago, during an election season that now seems as if it occurred in the Mesozoic era, I wondered in an op-ed if we’d ever get off the cliché flag waving inherent in all major national campaigns.
Apparently, not yet.
Back then, all of this loftiness was in the shadow of daily poundings on Iraq, fuel prices, healthcare, the economy’s meltdown, and any other ills with which the fourth estate never missed an opportunity to pour salt on our national wounds. So candidates felt obliged. This with no sitting president running.
This week, on the anniversary of 9/11, with both national conventions mercifully in the rear-view mirror, many issues remain the same (surprise!), and there is a far closer election at hand. As such, the mudslinging between President Obama and Gov. Romney seems poised to rise to record levels.
Patriotism is one last fortress which each can defend in the quest for independent voters who will decide the matter. So Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama won’t get in front of a lectern without a half-dozen Old Glories posted behind them. The president, famously criticized in 2008 for not wearing a flag lapel, these days is never seen without one.
Yet what exactly is"patriotism?" As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, patriotism is the"love of or zealous devotion to one’s country." A patriot is someone who"exerts himself to promote the well-being of his country.
The word"patriotism" stems from the Greek word "patris" meaning "fatherland," which further comes from the ancient Greek "patrios," or "of one’s father." In its historical context, love of fatherland had a geophysical and agricultural connotation linked to the features of the land. Given the importance of farming economies, this made sense.
However, not only does money talk; it also affects the social contract. With the Industrial Revolution brewing in the latter 18th century, the advent of democracy, socialism, and communism emerged into the forefront of politics, changing patriotism’s precept.
So while patriotism remained a love of one’s country associated to the land as well as the citizenry, it also included its way of life and traditions, pride in its past, and commitment to its interests.
Today many concur that patriotism also involves service to their country, but the manner of service is still a point of contention.
Some think that the government speaks for a nation. Often espoused by the right, everyone should, for better or worse, support government policies and actions. On the other hand, the left mostly contends that patriots must become vocal dissidents if persuaded the nation is on an imprudent course.
Naturally, when it suits their purposes, each tries to co-op the others’ view in a game of one-upmanship.
Take the litany of car magnets which have become popular, and regrettably, presumed statements of political allegiance. While holders of peace symbols and yellow ribbons both express a love of country as well as a desire for peace, how often do we see a car with both of them side-by-side? As in: Support the troops but get out of Afghanistan already.
The answer is few, if any. The reason is our inability to grapple with some of the toughest current issues without going down ideological rat holes, and the ensuing stereotypes they harbor. These pits are dug by each party base to have us forget that most Americans don’t follow either form of extremism. Rather, we get through life by being diligent, accepting, and empathetic.
Our love-of-country conundrum originated in the Civil War and in one way or another has followed us ever since. The advent of the Digital Age, coupled with two decades of presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama, has done much to render both sides alienated and suspicious of each other.
So when someone chides me for flying a flag year round on my porch because "it must mean" I espouse a certain ideology, then I know where the realm of ignorance is found. These people have no clue.
With the campaign now in high gear, expect more of same patriot games: Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney will look right and left to keep the grass roots burning, then will take their flag-waving wherever they can.
I’m not holding my breath this will ever change. Let’s hope when the election is over, regardless of outcome, true patriots from both sides will stand up and find their way to the aisle.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.