Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘badnarik’

Patriotism

Posted by Richard on April 5, 2006

I attended the Advocates for Self-Government 10th anniversary conference in Atlanta — was it really 10 years ago? — and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great crowd, great speakers, organized and presented well by Sharon Harris and her staff and volunteers. I’m sure they do a nice job every year, but it’s not cheap flying from Denver to Atlanta, staying at the hotel, etc., so I’m not a candidate to attend just any old year.

I was, however, a prime candidate to attend the recent 20th anniversary conference. I didn’t go, though, and it wasn’t just that I was pretty busy. I also wasn’t as enthusiastic about spending a weekend in the company of a whole bunch of libertarians as I had been ten years ago.

I suppose I was afraid that I’d meet people who were proud that they attended the Badnarik2004 September 11 Meetup, wearing black to mourn the victims of the U.S. government. Or people whose rhetoric on the war is indistinguishable from that of the leftist rabble, with talk of "U.S. occupation," "imperialist war-mongers," "the U.S. armed Saddam, the CIA created al Qaeda," and so on. If that happened, I’d either start screaming at them, "How can you be so stupid?" or I’d just walk away shaking my head and go get another drink.

So, I didn’t try very hard to find the time or the money to attend. According to David Aitken, a lot of other people didn’t try very hard, either. I’m sure most of the other non-attendees had reasons other than mine, but there’s no question that a lot of the air has gone out of the libertarian movement’s tire in the past two or three years, and I’m convinced that the prevailing libertarian views on the war and foreign policy — and patriotism — have something to do with it.

I know I’m not the only libertarian bothered by those prevailing views. I’m not even the most bothered — heck, I’m still a registered Libertarian. I spoke with a former Denver LP chair this past Saturday — in fact, the most successful chair the Denver LP ever had, who regularly drew 50 or more people to our monthly meetings. She’d just come from the Arapahoe County GOP convention. She was a delegate, and will be a delegate to the GOP state convention, too. She left the LP in disgust over what she perceived as its greater animosity toward the Bush administration than toward Islamofascism.

Aitken observed that "most libertarians are libertarians first and Americans second," and that that’s a problem:

I’ve been a member of the Libertarian Party for about 20 years and I don’t ever recall seeing any public displays of patriotism or love of country at any official function of the party, either state or national. None of our candidates express that; they all talk about what needs changing or what’s wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a candidate say "This is the best country in the world", or something to that effect (I’ve been a candidate and I’m guilty). I am not saying "my country right or wrong" and I’m not a nativist, but we hear NOTHING except bitch, bitch, bitch, and that doesn’t attract voters.

He then linked to a beautifully written Peggy Noonan column (I think Noonan’s columns are always beautifully written, even when I disagree with them) that starts out talking about some of our living Medal of Honor recipients and ends up talking about immigration, and somehow it relates importantly to Aitken’s point. Noonan thinks we’re assimilating immigrants culturally and economically, but that’s not enough:

But we are not communicating love of country. We are not giving them the great legend of our country. We are losing that great legend.

What is the legend, the myth? That God made this a special place. That they’re joining something special. That the streets are paved with more than gold–they’re paved with the greatest thoughts man ever had, the greatest decisions he ever made, about how to live. We have free thought, free speech, freedom of worship. Look at the literature of the Republic: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers. Look at the great rich history, the courage and sacrifice, the house-raisings, the stubbornness. The Puritans, the Indians, the City on a Hill.

(God, that woman can write.)

Do we teach our immigrants that this is what they’re joining? That this is the tradition they will now continue, and uphold?

Do we, today, act as if this is such a special place? No, not always, not even often. American exceptionalism is so yesterday. We don’t want to be impolite. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to seem narrow. In the age of globalism, honest patriotism seems like a faux pas.

And yet what is true of people is probably true of nations: if you don’t have a well-grounded respect for yourself, you won’t long sustain a well-grounded respect for others.

I don’t think it’s just the immigrants — after Viet Nam, Watergate, and the triumph of post-modernism in academia, we largely stopped teaching our own children the legend, the great thoughts, the traditions — the love of country not out of some blind, irrational "nationalism," but out of deep admiration and respect for the people and ideas and values that brought it about and that still set it apart from all others. People and ideas and values that are unique, powerful, and soul-stirring.

Aitken and Noonan are right — America always has been and still is an exceptional place. If you don’t believe that, you need to get out more — learn more about the rest of the world and about history. Libertarians of all people should recognize that.

Instead, too many libertarians just bitch, as Aitken said. Even if they still admire America’s founders and history, they see only negatives in their own lifetime — taxes are higher, regulations more onerous, the police state is creeping closer, we’re losing our liberties all the time, yada, yada, yada. Well, granted, the Federal Register is a depressing document for a libertarian.

But in my lifetime, liberty has made more gains than retreats — people no longer fear jail (or worse) for drinking from the wrong water fountain or sitting in the wrong bus seat. The Lenny Bruces and Al Goldsteins of today aren’t being hauled off to jail. Yes, McCain-Feingold is an abomination, but on the whole, no people on earth are or ever have been more free to express themselves. Significant strides have been made in restoring some of the economic freedoms given up in the first half of the 20th century. Thirty-nine states (up from half a dozen) now recognize that our inherent right to self-defense, if not absolute, at least puts a significant burden on the state to demonstrate why we should not be able to go about armed.

I could go on. And we could argue endlessly about which pluses balance out which minuses and what the net score for liberty is from year to year. But that’s not the point. The point is that there are always things to criticize and things to praise, but at the end of the day, America as an idea and an institution and a heritage is worthy of our love and affection. Libertarians of all people should recognize that.

Just as we admire and love people who personify and concretize virtues and traits of character that we think are noble and worthy, it’s appropriate for us to admire and love institutions that embody and concretize ideals and principles that we think are noble and worthy.

Libertarians of all people should get choked up when they hear the Star Spangled Banner, when the fireworks go off on Independence Day, when an immigrant weeps at a naturalization ceremony, or when a Medal of Honor recipient, asked why he performed his great act of heroism, struggles to express himself clearly:

He couldn’t answer for a few seconds. You could tell he was searching for the right words, the right sentence. Then he said, "I get emotional about it. But we’re a free country." He said it with a kind of wonder, and gratitude.

Instead, too many libertarians have lost all sense of perspective and have adopted their own version of the sick moral equivalence game played by the left, which says that we’re no better than the people who attack us. Witness the libertarian who left this comment on one of my posts about Jay Bennish, the geography teacher  who indulged in the "Bush is like Hitler" classroom rant:

Actually, I think Bush is somewhat like Hitler – but what president in recent history hasn’t been? They are all after more power and more police-statism, and a bunch of nanny-statism to boot.

I responded:

Dick: Thanks for dropping by, but your first paragraph exemplifies what’s wrong with far too many libertarians.

George W. Bush is "somewhat like" Adolf Hitler in the same sense that a shoplifter at Target is "somewhat like" Genghis Khan because both took things that didn’t belong to them.

Well, that was Dick’s second paragraph, but I think I otherwise nailed it with my rejoinder.

To a lot of my fellow libertarians, I want to shout, "What the hell has happened to your sense of perspective? You rant about the Patriot Act — have you been to Britain or France or any of a 150 places far worse? You rail against Kelo (as did I) — did you know that in Egypt, according to Hernando De Soto, about 90% of all property owners don’t have a legal title and could lose their home or business at the whim of an unbribed bureaucrat? You carp about regulations and bureaucracies — did you know that starting a small business, which takes at worst a few days here, can take years in many countries? When was the last time you took a break from complaining and criticizing, and said, ‘I’m so grateful that I live here and not there, I’m so glad to be an American’?"

If you can’t see the huge gulf that separates "America isn’t perfect" from "America is no better than any other statist hell-hole," you need to seriously re-examine yourself and your values.

Linked to: TMH’s Bacon Bits, Blue Star Chronicles, third world county, Adam’s Blog, Conservative Cat

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