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Guest Commentary

Who knew? Candidates love the USA!

7/15/2015

For a moment, on July 5, I longed for Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election. Then we’d be rid of insidious campaign ads, overblown rhetoric and questionable press coverage. But it dawned on me (1) at my age I should savor each day and not wish time would go faster and (2) on Nov. 9, 2016, the press and political parties will focus on who leads the polls as a 2020 challenger to our new president.

The nonsense is unending.

Speaking of which, did you catch the Register’s two-page spread on the candidates on July 5? It featured responses to the question “Which is your favorite color? Red, White or Blue?”

OK, the real question was “How in your life have you best demonstrated PATRIOTISM?”

For a person concerned with questions, language and patriotism, however, there’s not much difference if a question is infantile or ill-conceived.

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After all, patriotism — like love — is a matter of living day in and day out, and it should defy being linked to a single “best” act. Further, some responses dealt with nationalism, not patriotism, and there is a difference.

Futility, silliness and irrelevance, however, are no barriers to today’s political commentary and coverage.

If you want substance, consider how George Orwell (1903-1950) distinguished between nationalism and patriotism in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism”:

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best…but has no wish to force on other people… Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Orwell’s distinction is useful because, for one thing, patriots come in all stripes and often disagree about the course to be taken by the nation they all love; nationalists, on the other hand, don’t tolerate any opposition to their flag-waving. Maybe in Congress today, we don’t have so much a lack of civility as a lack of patriotism.

Following the maxim “When given a lemon, make lemonade,” what might be gleaned from the Red, White or Blue query?

Given the word limit and the predictable responses, eight candidates focused solely or primarily on those serving in the military. (Jim Webb, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.) Santorum and Trump stood out because Trump “best demonstrated patriotism” by funding a veterans parade with $1 million; Santorum “best demonstrated patriotism” because his son joined the U.S. Air Force, and “I cannot give more to my country than one of my own” — without adding, “as long as I didn’t serve.”

Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, sons of immigrants, “best demonstrated patriotism” by living the American dream.

Service to others, including the most vulnerable, was the theme of Hillary Clinton, Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Dr. Rand Paul. John Kasich focused on meeting responsibilities as an elected official. Clinton’s and Carson’s comments seemed the most moving, with hers focused on 9/11 responders and Carson saying the Founding Fathers were his “touchstones.”

The two who embraced a patriotism closest to Orwell’s concept were Lincoln Chafee and Martin O’Malley, both long shots for the Democratic nomination.

Oh, when youngsters Scott Walker and his brother collected money in a mayonnaise jar for an Iowa state flag at the Plainfield, Iowa, city hall. Relatively speaking, the Walker boys gave the widow’s mite.

But, on balance, the “Red, White or Blue?” approach doesn’t bode well for us. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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