Opinion

We are a nation of two-dimensional patriotism

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," Samuel Johnson observed centuries ago.

And he didn't know Dick.

Five-deferment Dick Cheney, a man so big he has his own branch of government, is the patriot to beat, wily enough to get out of serving in one senseless war yet crafty enough to start another based on less logic.

Cheney is the subject of a superb Washington Post investigation revealing the extent of his disregard for established laws when it suits his purposes. Some critics carp that the series came years late and billions of dollars short. Yet it's more information than Cheney wants known if he has his own way - and when has he not?

We are present in an age of two-dimensional patriotism amounting to little sacrifice, only iconic magnets on the backs of cars. Those cars mainline oil from Middle Eastern nations, ruled by repressive regimes, where freedom rarely flowers but we're content to do business daily.

At our last national photo op, Memorial Day, the president - who generally avoids funerals and prevents photos of the coffins at Dover Air Force Base - praised "a new generation of fallen leaders."

Actually, they're not fallen leaders. They're dead.

Therefore, they can't lead. They're the rare Americans, along with their families, making sacrifices for this war.

When these Americans enlisted in the National Guard, they actually ended up at war. Many of these families have limited financial options, not tax windfalls and hedge-fund exemptions, so they enlisted in the military, a rare American growth industry that's actually hiring.

Then people have the temerity to moan about more pennies at the pump while they drive everywhere. And Iraq turns out not to be such a great investment - for security, for freedom, even for oil.

In Philadelphia, our Welcome America Festival - excuse me, our Sunoco Welcome America Festival - embraces the new patriotism.

"We're making history in this historical city that we love and you can become a part of that grand story," executive director Clifton Davis proposed on the americasbirthday.com Web site. "By becoming one of our proud sponsors, you can show your national and civic pride while doing the right thing for your business."

In other words, it helps to pay to play.

Pride goeth before the sponsorship levels, and patriotism has a name, as in Your Name Here for $5,000 to $100,000. Why can't people love something or support an effort, an enterprise, an idea without plastering their name all over the thing? This was before Ralph Lauren and Old Navy took corporate ownership of the flag. What happened to humility and the greater good?

The green movement is the latest in lip-service idealism, the plastic - as in malleable - concept that making consumerism Earth-friendly means you're a better person.

We're all for saving the Earth, being more sensible in our choices. But you know it's become rather superficial when places like Wal-Mart are hugging trees - they even have a "Who needs a hug" T-shirt featuring a beaming tree - when most people only get to the store by driving substantial distances in their vehicles mainlining Middle Eastern oil.

If you want change, if you believe in a new world order, if you have an ideal that you believe is worth everything, then it takes more than a ribbon, a corporate check, or a tree-hugging ad campaign.

It takes work. There are more ways to love and serve our country than flag-waving photo ops from the top and everyone else taking orders without question.

Karen Heller, a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer, can be reached at kheller@phillynews.com.

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