Saturday, July 5, 2008

One citizen's reflection amid questions about candidates' and progressives' patriotism

PATRIOTISM IS NOT GULLIBLE OR NAIVE. I feel a deep gratitude for American-style freedom and for those who have thought, deliberated, lived and died to frame, preserve, and advance it. The fact that I feel, simultaneously, that it is not in American freedom’s best interest to act like it currently is--in the manner it is conducting its internal affairs and in international relations--does not negate my gratitude or reduce my sense of patriotism. Nor does it mean I write a blank check and cast a rubber-stamp vote for everything my government--in any of its three branches and myriad bureaus--does in the name and for the sake of America and freedom. It is one thing to be grateful and patriotic; it is another to be gullible and na├»ve.

FREEDOM IS BIGGER. I try to keep in mind that freedom is bigger than any Administration. America is greater than a duly elected Congress. The Constitution stands above any appointed Court. The soul of America is deeper than policies conceived and implemented through layers of bureaucracy. Freedom's spirit is broader than what can be expressed by any region, state, or local community. For this reason, and for the fact that pride and prejudice is ever present and must be grappled with in each generation, it is necessary and prudent to be vigilant against apparently benign directives and decisions that appropriate the term “freedom” but do not necessarily embody and advance it for all.

WHAT IS FREEDOM’S COST? I once saw this quote etched in stone at a monument in Washington, DC: “Freedom isn’t free.” So it isn’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean its only cost is blood and that the primary manner of preserving freedom is war, the threat of violence, preemptive attacks on rogue regimes which we suspect, or the deployment and funding of a bloated military at the expense of local community creativity and our most vulnerable citizens. The fact that freedom has occasionally been preserved by unavoidable war does not mean that war is the primary and most-celebrated cost of freedom.

THESE LIVES TESTIFY. I write this, having visited Arlington National Cemetery, where tombstones in the shape of Crosses and Stars of David line the hills as far as the eye can see--each representing a life given for American freedom. I write this, having visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. These given lives testify to heroic efforts to preserve American freedom or to win it for those who asked for our help. But war and the death of soldiers is not the primary way freedom is preserved and promoted.

FREEDOM IS WILLED BY ORDINARY CITIZENS. Freedom is more proactive than an occasional defensive response of protection when it is truly under attack or an aggressive response of preemption when it is perceived to be threatened. The cost of freedom is a daily vigilance and active exercise of freedom by ordinary citizens. We mistakenly think that freedom is something won for us by the few who bear arms; in fact, freedom is something willed by the many who confirm its blessing and fuel its light through responsible use of its privileges and responsibilities.

VIGILANCE OF THE CITIZENRY. A vigorous and watchful exercise of such freedoms as speech, religion, and one’s vote serve to intensify freedom’s promise and buttress it against would-be detractors. It takes the vigilance of the citizenry to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to ensure there is freedom from want and freedom from fear. That “the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not repeatedly abused by the likes of either arrogant Enron executives or domestic abusers is far from a given. Some will always construe freedom for license and frame liberty in ways to serve themselves at the expense of others.

WILLING THE BEST FREEDOM CAN MEAN. Nothing short of an attentive, informed, and engaged citizenry willing the best freedom can mean will prevent genuine freedom from dissipating without a shot being fired or a terrorist attack being launched. It is possible to wave flags and sing of freedom all the while speech is curtailed, civil liberties conceded, corporate monopolies on goods and services permitted, equal opportunity redefined, religion regulated, poverty increased, and personal and community security decreased. Disengagement and apathy are greater threats to American freedom than terrorism or rogue regimes.

A MONUMENT TO ORDINARY PEOPLE. When I've been in Washington, DC, I've wanted to see a monument to the average American citizen. There were monuments to war heroes and esteemed Presidents and national figures. These are likely all great people and deserving of honor. But should there not be, in the capitol of democracy, an unmistakable message to the world that what preserves and promotes freedom and democracy is not so much “great persons” as a great people, not so much war but a vigilant peace, not only the notable actions of a few but the faithful and ordinary actions of the many who choose everyday to make freedom ring true in every community across America?

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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