|What happens when a Right Wing
Conservative goes to a Left Wing Meeting? Dissent Magazine
hosted a panel to ask: "Can the Left Wave Flags and be
Patriotic?" Learn how the moderate left--the Dissent Left,
opposes the Radical Left's "tear-down-the-flag-and-burn-it" attitude.
Learn why the moderate left doesn't agree with its radical fringe that
"America deserved what happened on Nine Eleven." Learn the
difference between mindless patriotism and critical patriotism.
Which do you practice? Why?
Tuesday--October 8, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 391
Can The Left Be Patriotic?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, October 8--Last night President Bush gave a speech that moved
the United States another yard toward the goal of waging war on Iraq.
The major networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, chose not to air it. Was this
an act of Vigilance, or one of Terrorism?
said the White House had not "requested" network coverage, and opted instead to run new "season"
prime-time shows. Their reasoning: the President's speech was
more "political" than "nationally urgent." The
speech, however, was "urgent." It was specifically designed to win
support of the American public to launch war on Iraq. When the call
to war becomes less important than a soap opera, our nation suffers from
the disease of Complacency.
Instead of watching
the speech, I chose to go face-to-face with those whom the President was
trying to "sell" into supporting the War on Iraq-- America's Left Wing.
My wife and I attended a
meeting sponsored by Dissent Magazine at the famous and historic National
Art Club in the Chelsea district of New York City.
Michael Kazin, Joanne Barkan, Maxine Phillips
The prestigious club is housed in Samuel Tilden's former
mansion. Tilden, like Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost the electoral to
President Hayes in 1876.
We sat in the Grand Gallery. The walls were
anointed with paintings of all different sizes and shapes. The
heavy oak richness of the room and stained glass exuded a sense of
sanctuary from a nation precariously balance on
the razor's edge of war.
The Liberal panel discussion was billed "United We
Stand? Citizenship, Patriotism and the Left" but the forum's basic theme
was: "Can The Left Be Patriotic?"
A distinguished panel of
"leftist" writers, professors and thinkers sat at the head table, ready to
issue their answers to a perplexing and paradoxical question. The panelists included
authors Joanne Barkan and Jim Sleeper, Georgetown University history
professor Michael Kazin and Dissent Magazine's managing editor, Maxine
My wife and I felt a bit like George Bush attending a
meal with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, for we are staunch Republicans,
relatively fresh from Orange Country, California where perhaps the most
Right-Wing of the Right has encamped itself and established defacto
borders to keep out anyone out who won't surrender to waving flags and
promoting classic, ideal Americanism. We had no idea what to
I whispered to my
wife as we entered, "Don't put our name and address on anything. Use
S's." Our older daughter, "S," is a "leftist" in many ways.
She is a Democrat and works with the homeless and disenfranchised people
of New York City. Plus, she just finished her Masters of Divinity
from New York Theological Union. She and her husband both are major
contributors to the Catholic Worker, one of the world's largest
publications promoting "non-violent left-wing" thinking--i.e.. anti-war,
anti-government, anti-capitalism, anti-technology..
Where her politics depart
from the Far Left is in the area or violence and confrontational
radicalism to effect change.. She avoids the Far Left because its constituents
tend to promote violence. Her diet of "leftism" is peaceful
protestation, non-confrontational protest. Neither my wife nor I
have any idea where she developed her opinions. However, we
always respected them even though we didn't agree in whole with them.
In a nutshell, we were conditioned to the "left," but had never gone out
of our way to be part of their thinking, or to learn what the roots of
their beliefs were. In fairness to the left, we decided to hear
their views from the "horses mouth."
I was interested in what
the Left had to say on the issue of Patriotism, especially in the face of the impending
issue of war. As a
former U.S. Marine and war veteran, I still drip with steel reinforced
Conservatism. I think it oozed into my pores from living over three decades in Orange County, California.
But nearly three years in New York City's diversity of opinions had helped
soften my Conservative shields, and allowed me to feel comfortable within
the group. Plus, I had my reporter's hat on, willing to hear
both sides of the issues. As my wife and I walked quietly into the Grand
Gallery, we mutually vowed to keep our mouths shut no matter how eager or
moved I might be to stand and disagree with what was being said.
I was profoundly surprised at what I heard.
Either I changed, or the Left isn't so bad after all..
The speakers targeted one issue-- the
need for the more moderate Left--what one speaker called the "Dissent
Left"--to keep its Voice heard over the din of the radical Left, or what
the speaker termed "Blame-America-First-Left."
The Blame-America-First-Leftist (B-A-F-L) are the extreme
dissenters. According to Ms. Barkan, they are "negative
nationalists," people who are purely negative and resentful against the
United States and do everything to alienate themselves from duties or
responsibilities to the country. They wish to "burn the flag,"
rather than "wash it," which is the more moderate Leftist approach
promoted by Norman Thomas.
Cliff and Lori
enjoying the 'liberal' evening in elegant surrounding
The B-A-F-L, the speakers agreed,
captures the media's attention through negative radicalism.
Immediately after Nine Eleven B-A-F-L spokespeople boasted that the
Terrorist attack was the result of America's aggressions on other nations,
a blowback effect of its attempt to undermine nations by putting in
puppet governments and oppressing people within underdeveloped
nations. By the Far Left's standards, "America got
just what it deserved."
The Dissent Left panelists stood in
disagreement with the radical view of B-A-F-Lism. While they
had no solutions to the problem of helping the world see the Left was not
a destructive but constructive force, they did propose the need for the
moderate Left message to neutralize the radical Left's
Negative nationalism versus dissent nationalism
was, according to the speakers, the difference between making no moral
effort to examine the flaws of negative thinking versus using one's
reasoning to see both sides of the issue. In other words, the
radical Left used knee jerk reactions to flail against America, while the
moderate Left talked about doing something, but never got around to
A gentleman from Spain proposed a question to the
forum that I found summarized the dilemma. His question
couched in a statement was: "Does the moderate Left suffer
because it thinks about what it is going to say before saying it, versus
the radical Left that barks out its hatred and vehemence against the
United States reactively."
His point was similar to the Far Right's
knee-jerk reaction to dissent--"The American Way or the Highway," versus
the Far Left's view: "America Sucks!"
Another audience member stood and asked if was
okay for a Leftist to fly the American Flag.
The Spaniards question led the
discussion to discuss two types of patriotism--mindless patriotism and
critical patriotism. Mindless patriotism, the forum agreed,
was the idea of "my country right or wrong," while "critical patriotism"
involved the moral duty of a citizen to
examine the issues and to promote the good of it while pointing out its flaws.
Mr. Sleeper, political science
teacher from Yale, shared a story that probably answered the
question best about Leftists flying American Flags. He cited a party of
Leftists who gathered to discuss the issue of patriotism.
During the discussion, the question came up about why people flew the
flag. As the high intellectualism raged in search of a profound
answer, none was found until one person looked up over the rim of his
glass and simply said: "They fly the flag because they feel bad
about what happened on Nine Eleven."
The most poignant comment I heard all
evening came from Ms. Barkan. The discussion was how the
moderate Left could get its Voice heard over the radical Left's "Blame
America First" negative nationalism. Her answer made the most
sense. "When we fear to express our patriotism," Barkan said,
"it blunts our liberalism."
In the end, there were no clear answers to
flying the flag, or to countering the radical Left's ability to grab
headlines and make all Leftists appear anti- or un-American..
If there was a
conclusion regarding the issue of Patriotism and the Left, it was a challenge
by the panelists to stir the pot, and to get people to define what
patriotism means to them, rather than to blindly toss it out as a symbol
of mindless acceptance versus giving it critical evaluation, which
includes the good and the bad of it.
I wondered how many Americans offered
"mindless acceptance" to our flag and country? I did. I do.
But for specific reasons.
I never question the singular goal of
America's original formation--"to offer all its citizens the right to rise
above themselves." If democracy has one bull's-eye over all
other governing structures, is to allow any immigrant to come to America,
work hard, and rise to the top of his or her dreams. This seems to me to
be the unquestionable value of Freedom and Democracy. No other
nation offers it children the legacy of such Freedom. Not waving a
flag means a denial of the right to achieve.
This morning I read the reviews of
President Bush's speech calling for American support of the impending war
should Saddam Hussein fail to meet the demands of the U.S. for weapons
inspection. I saw words such as "evil," and Hussein a "student
of Stalin," and references to Hussein's "nuclear holy warriors."
I found myself torn between "mindless patriotism"
and "critical patriotism."
As a warrior, I am eager to rid the world of the
Beast of Terror. But as a Parent and Grandparent and Citizen
of Vigilance, I know that "killing Hussein" or "killing bin Laden" is not
the solution. I know also that radical Leftism is not the
answer. Burning the flag is no response to making the world
safer. Neither is sitting around and intellectualizing what we
have been a student of Thomas Paine, one of our nation's foremost
"leftists," for as many years as I can think back. Paine, perhaps
the single most important force in stirring the American Revolution
through his Common Sense Pamphlets, literally forced the American public
to stand up and fight for their freedom, He was a critical
patriot not a negative one. He made it absolutely clear that
"revolution for revolution's sake" was not the issue. He proclaimed
that to tear down a structure without having a better one to build upon
He attacked "mindless
But he promoted that America had a better
system--democracy, of, by and for the people. He also saw government
only as a tool of the people, and not a parent, a father, a mother as the
monarchies had been, treating their citizens as children. Paine
extolled the Rights of Man, that our power for governing ourselves came
from a Divine Right, and no structure or system could stand above that
right. In that sense, he was an anarchist. In another, he
was a Sentinel of Vigilance.
He was saying the Freedom from Terrorism is
the duty and responsibility of each and every person, not the government
or the church. Through collective unification of parental
duties, we owed it to our children to make the land safe and free for
Unlike the radical left, he was saying: "don't tear down the house your children live
in and leave them homeless unless you have a better one to build for them
on the drawing table."
In more mundane terms, it's similar to
quitting your job have another to replace it.
I find it difficult to support
the war in Iraq under the principles of "mindless patriotism."
I've fought and killed and maimed to the waving of the flag, and now, as I
am older and have the vision that youth denies its warriors, I see a
deeper duty than just waging war to eliminate a threat.
I want to know what structure we will
build in the shell of Iraq's tyrannical destruction.
What would get me waving the flag is if the
reconstruction of Iraq was based on its becoming a State of Vigilance. And
its Constitution is a statement that "no decision shall be made by the
government until it is to the benefit of the children's children's
children." This would take Iraq to the highest level of
governing possible--it would put the duty of leadership back on the
doorsteps of its citizens, as America's was based on in 1776.
right of the children and the children's children's children
to live in peace, security and prosperity--must be the most
simple and architecturally sound solution to nation building.
If we wage war and destroy Iraq's leadership, we have a moral
duty to build from the ashes that which the people of Iraq will
claim as their own, and not one imposed upon them.
Promoting the Pledge
of Vigilance to the citizens of Iraq as a solution to their
nation building question after the elimination of Hussein would
satisfy the blank that now exists about "what do we do
after the bombs?" The parents, not the left or right
ends of the citizenship, would rule the nation's destiny.
However, I would not propose
Iraq be subject to the Pledge of Vigilance until after the President
of the United States offered it to all the citizens of America
first. If we are going to nation build, it
should be by attraction rather than promotion, by modeling rather
than by requiring.
Few would argue a
Vigilant State is a weak state. Quite the contrary,
it would be a strong state, for its decisions would be based
on what is right for the children, and their children's children's
children. Switzerland is an example of a Vigilant State.
In every household is a machine gun, and every citizen is part
of the militia, trained and duty-bound to protect their land
from the doorsteps of their homes.
What's right for
American children, or Swiss children, or English or French children,
is right for children in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Africa, the
Gold Coast and China. How those rights are delivered
can be different, but the core of the delivery remains the same--peace
So I learned
something from the Left last night. I learned I could
wave my flag with pride freedom, but only after I made sure
what I was waving it for. In my case, it was for a State
of Vigilance, not a State of Terror.
Go To Oct 7 Story: Building
The Towers Of Vigilance
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