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Patriotism July 4, 2012 by Robert Reich


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In the last two weeks, the Supreme Court has allowed police in Arizona to demand proof of citizenship from people they stop on other grounds (while throwing out the rest of Arizona's immigration law), and has allowed the federal government to require everyone buy health insurance -- even younger and healthier people -- or pay a penalty.

What do these decisions -- and the national conversations they've engendered -- have to do with patriotism? A great deal. Because underlying them are two different versions of American patriotism.

The Arizona law is aimed at securing the nation from outsiders. The purpose of the heatlhcare law is to join together to provide affordable health care for all.

The first version of patriotism is protecting America from people beyond our borders who might otherwise overrun us -- whether immigrants coming here illegally or foreign powers threatening us with aggression.

The second version of patriotism is joining together for the common good. That might mean contributing to a bake sale to raise money for a local school or volunteering in a homeless shelter. It also means paying our fair share of taxes so our community or nation has enough resources to meet all our needs, and preserving and protecting our system of government.

This second meaning of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to one another as citizens of the same society. It requires collaboration, teamwork, tolerance and selflessness.

The Affordable Care Act isn't perfect, but in requiring younger and healthier people to buy insurance that will help pay for the healthcare needs of older and sicker people, it summons the second version of patriotism.

Too often these days we don't recognize and don't practice this second version. We're shouting at each other rather than coming together -- conservative versus liberal, Democrat versus Republican, native-born versus foreign born, non-unionized versus unionized, religious versus secular.

Our politics has grown nastier and meaner. Negative advertising is filling the airwaves this election year. We're learning more about why we shouldn't vote for someone than why we should.

As I've said before, some elected officials have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America. Just after the 2010 election, the Senate minority leader was asked about his party's highest priority for the next two years. You might have expected him to say it was to get the economy going and reduce unemployment, or control the budget deficit, or achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. But he said the highest priority would be to make sure the president did not get a second term of office.

Our system of government is America's most precious and fragile possession, the means we have of joining together as a nation for the common good. It requires not only our loyalty but ongoing vigilance to keep it working well. Yet some of our elected representatives act as if they don't care what happens to it as long as they achieve their partisan aims.

The filibuster used to be rarely used. But over the last decade the threat of a filibuster has become standard operating procedure, virtually shutting down the Senate for periods of time.

Meanwhile, some members of the House have been willing to shut down the entire government in order to get their way. Last summer they were even willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States in order to achieve their goals.

In 2010 the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to unlimited money from billionaires and corporations overwhelming our democracy, on the bizarre theory that corporations are people under the First Amendment. Congress won't even pass legislation requiring their names be disclosed.

Some members of Congress have signed a pledge -- not of allegiance to the United States but of allegiance to a man named Grover Norquist, who has never been elected by anyone. Norquist's "no-tax" pledge is interpreted only by Norquist, who says closing a tax loophole is tantamount to raising taxes and therefore violates the pledge.

True patriots don't hate the government of the United States. They're proud of it. Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve and protect it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it.

But these days some Americans loathe the government, and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it and make the public so cynical about it that it's no longer capable of doing much of anything. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size it can be "drowned in a bathtub."

When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, some wealthy Americans claim "it's my money." They forget it's their nation, too. And unless they pay their fair share of taxes, Americans can't meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.

So when you hear people talk about patriotism, be warned. They may mean securing the nation's borders, not securing our society. Within those borders, each of us is on our own. These people don't want a government that actively works for all our citizens.

Yet true patriotism isn't mainly about excluding outsiders seen as our common adversaries. It's about coming together for the common good.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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"True patriotism means paying for America"

"But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it"

"Our system of government is America's most precious and fragile possession"

"Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve and protect it"

" It also means paying our fair share of taxes so our community or nation has enough resources to meet all our needs, and preserving and protecting our system of government"

The decline in the quality of national leadership over my lifetime is alarming....we've gone from having Statesmen who's rhetoric and vision anchored on the words of our founders and the founding documents ... to Apparatchiks who's primary goal is to continue to feed the whore so they can suckle unabated . My primary goal should now be to protect our "government" because generations of American's have fought to protect our government. And the highest form of altruism is being "selfless" and relish in paying "our fair share" so the government can march forward.

Reich's twisted narrative is a distortion of patriotism; and the sacrifices made by 236 years of Americans. I never heard my father speak of protecting the "government" when he spoke of holding dying friends in his hands in France, Belgium and Germany; or as he described the horrors of death camp liberation's....growing up I watched my grandfather limp and use his left hand only 60 years on from Belleau Woods, he never once spoke of the honor or nobility of protecting his government while he scrambled for his gas mask in multiple gas attacks or on the day he was left for dead in the Ardennes. In my original American's ancestors account of Yorktown, he never once mentioned how he had fought, starved and ultimately triumphed for his government (there was in fact no government at the time). There was an evil on the land; a threat to their families or the families of broader mankind....and in return, they only asked to be allowed to come home, raise a family, earn a living, be left alone. When I wore the uniform, I can assure you I never thought of protecting the government anywhere on my list of priorities. I never swore to protect the "government"...I swore to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. When politicians are sworn in, they swear to defend the Constitution; not the government. There is a huge difference...and Reich attempts to deceive and infer that they are the same. They are not.

The Constitution was written by men who had seen real time what despots do.....despots take, they steal, they usurp, they have an unquenchable appetite for the treasure of others. The Founders wrote the document to prevent this government; or any other government, from doing the same. Reich implies that we do not spend enough to provide for the common defense or welfare. This is complete hogwash....we've increased spending $5 Trillion (with a T) in 3.5 years. There is never enough for a despot. There is always another well meaning cause. Reich is trying to pull at our heartstrings and make this about compassion and a higher cause....It's about good intentions....we all know where that road leads. Just ask Greece, Spain, Italy, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or any other socialist or communist regime who believe(d) that the government; not the people, were the answer.

I would liken this government to drunken sailors; but having known many drunken sailors in my time; it would be an insult to them... continued profligate spending threatens our future (see Greece, Spain, etc.); and the future of my children and your children. When our children misbehave, we do not encourage their poor behavior. We chastise them and show them the benefits of proper behavior. When alcoholics need help, we do not buy them more alcohol...we deny them alcohol and provide encouragement of the virtues of a sober life. It would be folly to provide any more money to a system and a government that has proven so ill suited to spending it wisely. It is my duty to chastise this government and to deny it more money to waste...and if at all possible, roll back some of the existing power it has garnered. Just like I would ground a child and roll-back privileges once earned, this government needs to be brought back to within a boundary it is competent to act within.

Reich claims our government is our "most precious and fragile" asset...what an insult...our people are our greatest asset. It wasn't our government that made us great; it was the People. We became a nation without a government....we became a nation based on grit and some simple ideas...not hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations and a bloated government wasting money....We grew as a great nation on the backs of men and women so remote from government that it was not a factor in their lives. The lack of government was not a liability; it was an asset.

Again, I hold no love for this government or any government in our history; I hold a love for the Constitution, the People of this nation and for their well being. At this point; the goals of the government and the well being of the people are at odds. Blindly following the "road of good intentions" leads to folly. We need responsible leaders that will once again restrain government spending and return to fiscal discipline. We need leaders humble enough to understand that they cannot solve the problems of everyone; in fact; they can solve very few problems...we need leaders who are humble; period; humble in the example of George Washington who on more than one occasion stepped down when he could have assumed absolute power....humble in the example of Dwight Eisenhower who preached restraint of government...humble in the example of Ronald Reagan who knew America's true strength was in it's People....it is my duty to oppose all efforts to take more money and power from the hands of any American and hand it over to the current temporary occupants of the Beltway. Reich could not have gotten it more wrong.

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Wow! Auburn85 thanks for posting. It is important to know what complete garbage is being printed out there by folks like Robert Reich. The article is truly pathetic.

"True patriotism is about coming together for the common good" -- What total BS!!! That is exactly the same as "True patriotism is doing whatever Barack Obama (or whoever the president is at the time) says."

I heard a quote recently that is ringing more and more true:

"The problem today is that Americans are more concerned with the government providing security than they are with the government protecting liberty."

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