Recently, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani challenged publicly whether or not President Barack Obama loves America.
The back-story occurred last week when Mr. Giuliani was attending a dinner for potential Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the swanky New York 21 restaurant. According to New York Magazine, Giuliani said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. ... He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
The nature of the comments and the group which was attending the dinner lend itself to the interpretation (and echoed by many analysts) that President Obama isn’t a patriot or at the very least doesn’t conduct himself in a patriotic fashion.
This got me to thinking broadly about the idea of what patriotism truly means. I think one's idea of being a patriot takes many forms. Is being a patriot following every edict that our country puts out? Is being a patriot exercising our constitutional right, and some would argue...civic obligation, to question policies that we feel are unjust even if they are proffered by our own country? Is being a patriot being willing to sacrifice up to and including one's life in the name of our country? Each of these measures is in some form or fashion an expression of patriotism.
That said, how can we be a nation of patriots when we are seemingly so torn by partisan politics that it fosters a sense of divisiveness and an "us versus them" mentality? Personally, I believe that today's brand of politics does more to make tenuous the ties that bind our nation and thus fray our collective patriotism. Whether it is by class, race, gender, sexuality or faith...it seems that more and more we see pundits and politicians trying to "out-American" the next person to score political points or demonize someone rather than recognize that being a patriot is not a monolithic state.
I was taught to believe that the hallmark of being a patriot is that we are able and willing to work through our differences...to move our country forward with respect and not contempt for our fellow citizens. That we understand no matter how fierce and heated a debate can become, we should never let that preclude us from coming together on what's right for our nation. Being a patriot is understanding that no matter who we love, how we pray or which political party we call home, we are all Americans who love this country and strive to have our nation reach its infinite potential for all of Americans.
There are numerous ways to insult, anger, vilify or criticize a political opponent. It happens unfortunately all to often these days in politics. Sound bites and thirty second commercials try to scare us into detesting our fellow Americans, rather than engaging us in thoughtful dialogue on the challenges we face. I also understand that in a moment of passion or annoyance, one might say something that they later regret. We have all done it. But to attack a person’s patriotism, even implicitly, is surely one of the lowest blows that anyone can level in politics or in private because it strikes at the soul of how one feels about their country.
I wrote the blog portion above on Sunday evening. Rudy Giuliani, writing in the Op-Ed page in the Monday edition of The Wall Street Journal, acknowledged the extensive coverage and criticism of his comments regarding President Obama. Giuliani wrote: “My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart.… But whether you agree or not with what I said last week, I hope the intention behind those words can be the basis for a real conversation.”
I welcome the clarification and the invitation for a “real conversation.” A conversation free of hyperbole and histrionics that doesn't call into question one's love for this country or the depth of that love. It is widely held that our brand of "American patriotism" has seen its share of highs and lows throughout our country's history. However, in our darkest hours of national despair the enduring strength of our collective patriotism has always guided us through. May it continue to be a tie that binds us all as Americans. That's my take. What’s yours?