Friday, March 31, 2006

Time to End the Hijacking of Politics by American Super-Patriots

Time to End the Hijacking of Politics by American Super-Patriots

Jewish Journal North of Boston
March 31, 2006 copyright 2006

Funny thing is happening in America. The citizens, according to polls, are way down on approval of the president, disappointed in the Congress, mad at the bureaucracy’s ineptitude, and furious with the shenanigans of lobbyists.

On the other side, congressional and presidential politicians are merrily tuning up for the 2006 congressional and the 2008 presidential elections.

What I am worried about is how super-patriotism will rear its hateful head in these elections.

Here’s the story: I, and most people, believe that everybody whose work, study or volunteer efforts help the nation to function better is patriotic. For what is patriotism but love of country and willingness to work — and even sacrifice — for it?

Super-Patriots are different. They sell, through demagoguery, a fanatical brand of patriotism. This fanaticism has them wrapping themselves in the flag and unleashing conspiracy theories about some citizens (particularly their political opponents) subverting the nation. Theirs is a fixed and unchangeable view of the world. If you don’t share it, then you are, by definition, unpatriotic. You may even be a traitor.

The main tactic of super-patriotism, besmirching the opponent’s patriotism, is becoming well entrenched in American political rhetoric. Shame on us that it often works. And sadder still that many young people see it as normal, simply how politics are played out.

Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) continues to call for changes in our Iraq policy and for a plan to bring the troops home. Murtha is a twice-wounded Vietnam War hero and an ardent military supporter who visits wounded soldiers every week in our military hospitals. The White House had the chutzpah to equate Murtha’s criticism with surrendering to terrorists and compared him to Michael Moore, the controversial filmmaker.

During the last presidential campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth twisted facts to question the patriotism of Senator John Kerry.

Max Cleland, incumbent senator from Georgia, was defeated in the 2002 election by an opponent arguing that he was more patriotic than Cleland and used TV attack ads featuring a photo montage of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Who is Max Cleland? Only a Vietnam hero, triple amputee, former Secretary of the Veterans Administration, and National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans.

If the Super-Patriots can call into doubt the loyalty of genuine war heroes like Murtha, Kerry and Cleland, imagine how they would treat lesser mortals like you and me. When these tactics are used against opponents without backfiring, it’s time to be very concerned.

When you think about it, doesn’t it make you laugh (or cry) that a controversial piece of national legislation is called The Patriot Act. Argue or vote against it and what are you? In fact, the unpatriotic invective directed against Max Cleland called his support of the Patriot Act into question.

So, you ask, what does all this have to do with the Jewish community?

Just like for every American citizen: a lot. But, super-patriotism usually comes along with an enemy, a scapegoat, a group they charge as responsible for all the troubles of society. Put the domestic enemy in their place, get rid of them, is what they usually preach. And Jews have traditionally been a group of choice to scapegoat.

Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy was the highflying Super-Patriot of the 1950s. While McCarthy did not play the anti-Semitism card, many lesser-known super patriots in that era rode the gravy train of super-patriotism and anti-Semitism. One of the most successful was Gerald L.K. Smith, whose organization, The Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, published a monthly magazine titled “The Cross and the Flag.”

Not subtle at all, was he? Smith’s attacks on Jews, Catholics and African-Americans produced profits of at least $250,000 a year, which in those years was, as they say, real money. Thankfully, political parties shunned him like the plague.

Now that super-patriotism is being mainstreamed into political life, we must pay attention and fight it at every opportunity. Stay tuned for the upcoming elections.


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