American Elephants

Nobody is questioning your patriotism. by The Elephant's Child

I have a confession.  For a number of years, I have been copying down passages from my reading into my own book of quotations.  Not pithy little sayings like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but long paragraphs that struck me as offering some special insight into our world.  The following is one such passage, from a book called The Mythic West by the late Robert G. Athearn.  Dr. Athearn was for many years a professor at the University of Colorado, author of many histories, and a recipient of the Western Heritage Award.

In the Western myth, many have found exactly what they were looking for.  Significantly, the images and the simple story of the western legend first caught on in the early nineteenth century, those years when the young Republic, like a proud and gawky adolescent was trying to decide who and what it was.  This myth has been around ever since, simply because it has always done its job.
The legend is rooted in a story with which just about anyone can identify.  It tells what happened when ordinary people moved into an extraordinary land.  Often enough they overcame the challenges that they met there, but the real point of the story is not what happened to the land, but what happened to the people.  They were changed, the legend insists — transformed, reborn.  And they were better for it.  The ordeal in the wilderness created the American, we believe; free-thinking, open, tough, optimistic, self-reliant — the litany goes on and on.  The western hero has embodied these virtues and this message.  He is us, only a little bigger, tougher, braver.  From James Fenimore Cooper to John Wayne, whenever anyone has told us this story and has done it well, we have clapped and made him rich.

To me this captured something about Americans that I have not seen elsewhere.  It speaks to me of Americans’ love of their country and their identification with it.  For Americans differ from citizens of other countries in their pride in their country, their satisfaction with their country and their conviction that there is no better place.

The picture of the flags above came from the Democratic National Convention, about a week later, when 84 bags of flags were left out by the garbage tins, apparently intended for the dump.  Boy Scouts rescued them and a McCain supporter distributed them at a McCain rally.  Details are here, here and here.  Democrats were incensed, and predictably called it a cheap political stunt calling into question their patriotism.

Now I don’t know if anyone called their patriotism into question.  I neither heard it, not saw any such statement.  What I do recognize is a kind of sinking-feeling, a sadness that others don’t always understand. Perhaps it is more understandable, viewed from the other side, in a story from the Wall Street Journal. In a story about the Olympics in Beijing,  Kobe Bryant told NBC’s Chris Collingsworth about how he got “goosebumps” when he received his Olympics uniform.

“I actually just looked at it for a while; I just held it there and I laid it aross my bed and I just stared at it for a few minutes; just because as a kid growing up this is the ultimate, ultimate in basketball.” The L.A. Laker went on to call the US “the greatest country in the world.  It has given us so many great opportunities, and it’s just a sense of pride that you have; that you say, ‘You know what? Our country is the best.”

Mr. Collingsworth was startled.  “Is that a cool thing to say in this day and age? That you love your country, and that you’re fighting for the red, white and blue?  It seems sort of like a day gone by.”

Now I don’t know what is more startling, Mr. Collingsworth’s statement, or the fact that this small incident was considered important enough to be featured in the Wall Street Journal.

The point I am trying to make is that Sarah Palin would immediately identify with the passage that I quoted above, and ordinary Americans know that she would; because they identify with it themselves.  That’s why they put their kids in Boy Scouts, and teach them to be respectful about the flag, and to care about their country, and to treat those who have served their country with respect and gratitude.

That’s why ordinary Americans are offended when the Obama Campaign sends an army of lawyers to Anchorage, armed with pocketsfull of cash, to see what dirt they can dig up on Sarah Palin.  They are offended by folks who treat the flag with disrespect, let alone setting it on fire, while they grit their teeth because it is constitutionally protected speech.  But they also understand straight talk when they hear it.  And they are very, very tired of hearing about how terrible their country is, and what dire straits it is in, and how ordinary Americans need more government to take care of them.

Nobody is questioning your patriotism, Democrats.  We are questioning your judgment.  And if the shoe fits uncomfortably, well…

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