The terms “patriot” and “patriotism” have been thrown around so much since Sept. 11 that is has become part of any politician’s daily vocabulary. Today, Patriot Day, is even a day celebrated in many areas of the United States. But what does the term mean, anyway?
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of patriot includes any person “who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.”
Admittedly that is a very broad definition, which probably is why the term is used so often. It is difficult to say a person does not love his or her country. How do you prove that? Maybe the person is of the honest opinion that whatever he or she says is in the interest of the country.
Throw in the snippet from the constitution — assigned reading for any self-proclaimed patriot (except John Ashcroft, who brought a letter from his parents and is exempt from that rule) — that guarantees free speech to anybody, and it seems that open discourse and even dissent was built into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
So there you have it: Anybody is allowed to speak out, but everybody is also allowed to disagree with them. Both are equally patriotic.
Then there is the oath taken by troops and many officers of the U.S. government. It includes the line “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”
If the logic of the oath is followed, it means every politician, no matter what his or her title, can be deemed a threat to the Constitution if they moved to revoke essential parts of the Bill of Rights. This includes all ranks, even senators or the president and opens them up for criticism.
But criticism for criticism’s sake is an easy trap to fall into.
As the election campaign is heating up, the Bush campaign has already run spots accusing presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to have voted against “higher combat pay for our troops.” What could be more unpatriotic than not supporting the people that fight for our country and protect out freedom?
But President George W. Bush, while running on his record as a “war president,” did the same thing of which he is accusing Kerry. More specifically, he proposed to cut veteran’s pay as well as to decrease pay and benefits for current troops.
When the president visited troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in December he said, “We have made a commitment to the troops … we will provide excellent health care — excellent care — to anybody who is injured on the battlefield.” Later he proposed to cut $1.5 billion from funding for military family housing and medical facilities, a cut of 14 percent of the total budget, according to the Web site IndependentBudget.com, a site created by Paralyzed Veterans of America to represent the interest of veterans and troops.
If this teaches us anything, it is that pointing a finger at somebody and proclaiming, “He is not a patriot!” does not make it so. It also does not mean the person pointing the finger is, by default, any more patriotic than the accused.
Such shortfalls of self-proclaimed patriotism can only be overcome through open discourse. Only if such things are discussed in the open can it be ensured that the interests of the people, and therefore the country, are put above everything else.
This of course is not always convenient because it includes not only tolerating, but treasuring, those that hold a different opinion than your own.
Be it Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken, John Ashcroft or Sami Al-Arian, all have the right to state their opinion.
Bush, on his first trip to Washington, D.C. as president elect, said, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier — just as long as I’m the dictator.”
A dictatorship in which nobody can state their opinion without their “patriotism” being called into question is probably the last thing we want the United States to become. Focusing more on the issues at hand rather than the hollow platitudes of patriotism would serve this country a whole lot more than any amount of flag waving.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science and an Oracle Opinion editor.