"We liberals, er, I mean progressives, are patriots, too." That is the gist of E.J. Dionne's touchingly defensive Fourth of July column in the Washington Post. He deeply resents the fact that it is widely assumed that patriotism is the default position of conservatives, while it is not sufficiently recognized that progressives, too, love their country--in their way. E.J. explains:
But the progressive and the reformer have a problem with what passes for unadulterated patriotism. By nature, the reformer is bound to insist that the country, however glorious, is not a perfect place, that it is capable of doing wrong as well as right. The nation that declared "all men are created equal" was, at the time those words were written, the home of an extensive system of slavery.
Most reformers guard their patriotic credentials by moving quickly to the next logical step: that the true genius of America has always been its capacity for self-correction. I'd assert that this is a better argument for patriotism than any effort to pretend that the Almighty has marked us as the world's first flawless nation.
Rejecting "unadulterated patriotism," E.J. comes out foursquare in favor of what I suppose might be called adulterated patriotism, i.e., deep devotion to the America that might be but isn't. There is a larger point here, however. E.J. is right: Conservatives of my acquaintance insist that America is a perfect place incapable of doing wrong, as Charles Colson is always insisting. Senator Rick Santorum hits the nail on the head when he says that the Almighty has marked America as the world's first flawless nation.
Leave it to those liberals to complain about the continuing oppression of urban blacks who are captive to a monopoly school system that excludes generation after generation from full participation in our society. Let the so-called progressives go on and on about unelected judges who arrogate to themselves the right to make decisions that belong to the people and their representatives. Ignore the Left's constant whining about the proliferation of pornography and a culture descended into the mindless celebration of the meretricious. Pay no mind to reformers who are forever harping about violations of religious freedom. Above all, turn a deaf ear to progressives who refuse to reconcile themselves to the killing of a million innocent babies per year.
You don't find conservatives running down their country with those and other complaints. No sir, they're not about to adulterate their patriotism with calls for reform. E.J. Dionne, acute political and cultural analyst that he is, understands that conservatives believe that America is a perfect place incapable of doing wrong, marked by the Almighty as the world's first flawless nation.
The cover of the August/September issue of First Things, which will be out in a couple of weeks, features "Theocracy! Theocracy! Theocracy!" That's the title of an insightfully rollicking article by Ross Douthat, associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly. He takes on with gusto a slew of current books alerting us to the takeover of America by the nefarious Religious Right.
There is Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy, of course, and James Rudin's The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us, and Michelle Goldberg's The Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, and Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. The theocratic threat is the hysteria of the season in the publishing world.
In an article that will become a lasting point of reference, Douthat skillfully exposes the social bigotry and historical ignorance of authors who are accustomed to think of themselves as occupying the moral high ground and deeply resent competition from those who are so presumptuous as to disagree. In the same issue, I have a comment on the curious origins of Damon Linker's Theocons, which is scheduled for release in September. The way not to miss the August/September issue of First Things is to put your money where your mouse is and subscribe by clicking here.