One of the silliest campaign attacks so far has come out of Bill Kristol, a neo-conservative who now has a regular column in the New York Times. Pulling out the old “patriotism” canard from his neo-con campaign playbook, Kristol takes Barack Obama to task for refusing to wear a flag lapel pin. Kristol suggests that that is just plain unpatriotic.
The problem with Kristol and other neo-conservatives — and, for that matter, most conservatives — is with their conception of patriotism. In their minds, the federal government and the country are one and the same thing. Thus, the failure to wear a flag label pin, which one might well identify with either the government or the country, evidences a lack of patriotism.
This conservative and neo-con conception of patriotism is precisely why conservative presidential candidates such as John McCain, Rudy Guliani, and Mitt Romney were both angry and befuddled when Ron Paul blamed the U.S. government’s foreign policy for the terrorist blowback that resulted in the 9/11 attacks. In their minds, Paul was part of the “blame America” crowd because in their minds, the federal government and America are conflated into one entity.
One irony of all this is that conservatives and neo-cons still pay lip service to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet, those two documents openly acknowledge the distinction between the federal government and the country. In fact, a close reading of the Bill of Rights reveals that it isn’t really so much an enumeration of rights as it is an express means to protect the country from the federal government.
Conservatives and neo-cons always have a difficult time explaining why they support the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. After all, contrary to popular misconceptions, those signers were not great Americans. They were actually great Englishmen. That’s right — not only were the signers of the Declaration British citizens who were condemning their own government and not only were they refusing to support the troops, they were actually counseling people to disobey the laws of their government and to shoot and kill their government’s troops. Talk about unpatriotic, at least from the standpoint of the conservative and neo-conservative conception of patriotism.
If you ever want to leave a conservative or neo-con with a confused look on his face, ask him who the real patriots were during World War II — those Germans who supported their government and its troops or those Germans like Hans and Sophie Scholl and their White Rose associates who condemned their government and called on Germans to not support the troops.
Conservatives and neo-cons are not the only ones whose minds conflate the federal government and the country. Don’t forget that Bill Clinton shares the same mindset. He once suggested that it is impossible for a person to love his country and hate his government. He could not understand how anyone could claim to love America while condemning the federal government’s massacre of men, women, and children at Waco.
The conservative and neo-con mindset is no different than that of Clinton, for they cannot understand how anyone can love America while condemning the federal government’s invasion, war of aggression, and occupation of Iraq. For them, criticizing the federal government’s massacre of hundreds of thousands of people whose citizenry and government never attacked the United States is just plain unpatriotic. In the mind of the conservative and neo-conservative, the genuine patriot simply puts on his flag label pin, expresses love for his government, and stops hating America.