Patriotically Incorrect

It’s not often that one is able to associate the end of an era and the start of another with the same person. Bill Maher, an irreverent but likeable individual, is that person.

Within a week of the September 11 tragedy, Maher, host of ABC’s Politically Incorrect, challenged Bush’s characterization of the hijackers as “cowards.” That term, as far as Maher was concerned, could be more easily applied to the launchers of the US cruise missile attacks. Well, that turned out to be not only “politically incorrect,” but “patriotically incorrect” as well. Soon sponsorship was pulled by major advertisers, and some ABC affiliate stations dropped the program.

It was at that time that “political correctness” took second fiddle to “patriotic correctness.” Overnight, Americans, were being asked to sober up to the realities of a divided world… us and them, whoever the “them” were. We were in a very special war and the whole country had been conscripted to think and act at unison.

Two years later the patriot militias are still out in full regalia. And Ari Fleischer’s warning to us all, from his pulpit at the White House, still reverberates: “There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not the time for remarks like that (Maher’s); there never is.”

This country that we call the United States of America is not solely for members of a given race, or those from given ethnic origins; it is not just for people with specific spiritual beliefs, religious or irreligious; it is not the exclusive domain of any political group or affiliation; and certainly, it is not simply a symbol: a pledge of allegiance, a revered flag, a nostalgic song, or colorful ribbons.

This country is the summation of its citizenry, everything and everyone: the commonality of aspirations; and, most important of all, this country is the miracle of acceptance and tolerance to live in harmony with all of our differences. One out of many, “e pluribus unum,” that’s our motto. Our point of reference, our genesis, is one: The Constitution.

No, Reverend Falwell, this United States is not a Judeo-Christian nation, as much as you would wish it to be. If you care to know, our founding fathers were mostly deists who made a place in the Constitution for all of us; yes, including Evangelicals.

Using patriotism to denounce political opponents is emotional, empty rhetoric of the worst kind. As it is the use of words such as traitor or treason to describe any type of political dissent- words that are persistently used by those who should know better, as well as those flag waivers who do not.

It has been said that in time of anger and pain we tend to focus on the symbols, and not the substance, of patriotism. A true patriot knows when to praise the government, and when to show dissent. A true patriot is well informed on the issues and is not a stranger to history. A true patriot shows his patriotism by voting, participating in the affairs of his community and caring for his fellow countrymen. A true patriot knows that people living in other lands can also be patriotic and not be a threat to us. A flag pinned to one’s lapel, or prominently displayed on an SUV does not a patriot make.

Dissent may be an inconvenience to those who govern but it is an essential part of our democracy, something that may not be legislated out of our political lives, something not amendable, part of the Bill of Rights.

It has been sad to see the self-censure that is taking place in our media during these past two years, all in the name of patriotism. Anchors, writers and reporters have taken heed to the desires of those who ill-advisedly govern. Precisely, when most needed, our vanguard for freedom, the established press, has let us down. Where are today’s Cronkites, Morrows and so many other professional, patriotic journalists? How are we to emerge from these times of distress with an unquestioning Congress and a self-censured press, all done in the name of national unity?

There are times when tears in the name of patriotism must be shed. This is one of them.