im in ur magazine, questioning ur patriotism

Questioning someone's patriotism is a scurrilous and indecent thing to do in politics; that's what folks on the left have been telling people for years, anyway.

They're only too happy to do it themselves, though.

I don't go out of my way looking for this stuff, but caught a recent example in (of all places) National Review on page 11 of the July 14 issue. (I downloaded a PDF version of the page, which you can gander here.) It's an advertisement—I hope it was expensive—for the book The True Patriot by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.

[I previously blogged about E. J. Dionne's adulatory column about the book, and Matt Welch's PG-13 rated reaction.]

The ad literally questions the patriotism of their opponents. Example:

Is it patriotic — or even conservative — to support an aggressive expansion of government power to eavesdrop?
I may be imagining things here, but I think they mean for you to answer "no" to that question. But two can play that game:
Is it patriotic — or even progressive — to be far more concerned with the "rights" of terrorists to converse freely with their operatives than with the lives of Americans?
See? It's easy and fun! Producing the mirror image of the remainder of the Liu/Hanauer patriotism-questioning is left as an exercise for the easily amused reader. (I'm easily amused too, so if you come up with something good let me know.)

As I said, the ad is for their book, and points you to their website, truepat.org. From there, you can buy the book (currently $8.76 at Amazon), or (recommended) read the whole 132 pages online. It's a fast read: large type, wide margins, no complex arguments. (Liu was once a speechwriter for President Clinton, and it shows.) And despite being short, it also manages to be tediously repetitive.

There are a number of pages with pictures, useful if you've forgotten what Abe Lincoln looked like. One of the nice things about reading it on-site is the comments various readers have left, some of which are perceptive and funny. Bad things: you can't search the text, and you can't cut-n-paste. My quotations may be sloppier than usual as a result.

I would dearly love to read a P. J. O'Rourke review of the book. In 'liu' of that (heh), here are some of my random impressions:

It's very, well, Obamaesque in its approach. The authors will occasionally feint to the right, paying some respect to conservative notions:

Readers should know we are progressive and Democrats. But while we are appalled by much of what we hear from the right wing of the Republican Party, we freely admit that conservatives have been correct about certain ideas: the need to tie reward to work, and punishment to crime; the importance of drawing lines between right and wrong; the dangers of a "no consequences" culture.
But—just as when Obama rhetoricizes similarly—there's not a lot of substance to head-fakes like that. Are there really a lot of non-conservatives that don't believe in tying punishment to crime? (What are you going to tie it to, then?) There's no indication that these conservative "certain ideas" actually lead the authors to advocate any policy position that would offend, say, Nancy Pelosi.

The authors claim that an "enormous amount of research" went into the book. They "immersed" themselves in "philosophy, politics, linguistics, religion, demographics, and history." Why they even deigned to talk—oops, sorry—listen "to many ordinary Americans." But after all that research and immersion and listening, there's no indication that they arrived at any significantly different opinions than the ones they held previously. And despite all the heavy-lifting homework, their arguments for those opinions are remarkably simplistic, condescending, dogmatic, and fallacious, full of question-begging and strawmen. (Lecturing to "conservatives": "You've been wrong to assume the market is always right. You've been wrong to assert that what you fear must be evil. You've been wrong …" etc.)

The authors are huge fans of aggressively annexing concepts to their side by prepending adjectives to them. You need look no further than the question-begging title: The True Patriot. One bright commenter likens this to Anthony Flew's True Scotsman fallacy.

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."
Another example: the authors would be foolish to forthrightly advocate increased socialistic encroachments on the free market system. So they are all in favor of capitalism—no, wait, what they're in favor of is Patriotic Capitalism. Which means, essentially, higher taxes, shared sacrifice, regulation, subsidies, etc.

The True Patriot is unabashedly and stridently moralistic. It's not adequate for the authors to brand their opponents as merely wrong on the facts, or working toward different but valid goals. Instead, those opponents are evil, in violation of civic morality. The authors admit they are attempting to cook up a "civic religion;" this makes it much easier to deem dissenters as not just misguided, but heretics ("false patriots"). America, they allege, is in a deep "spiritual crisis." And the book dives headfirst into sermonizing at times; it's easy to imagine this being part of a stemwinding, red-faced speech delivered from a bully secular pulpit:

But American today is in danger of drifting from its best traditions. We have allowed the false prophets of selfishness to obscure our vision. We have grown numb to a creeping cynicism about progress and public life. We crave human connection yet hide behind walls. We worship the money chase yet decry the toll it exacts on us. We allow the market to dominate our lives, relationships, yearnings, and aspirations. We indulge in nostalgia and irony and addictive entertainment, then purge from our hearts any true idealism or passion, any notion that being American should mean something more than "everyday low prices" or "every man for himself."
Yowza! Don't forget: we're also bitter, clinging to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like us, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain our frustrations!

And, dear friends, Eric and Nick are here to SAVE you from your spiritual crisis with Progressive GovernmentTM!

The book is also straightforwardly collectivist: note the wailing against "selfishness" above. They laud "the simple precept of country above self." They deride "self-interest" (usually proceeded by the adjective "narrow"). The authors claim to appreciate the "negative conception of freedom", which they sum up as "the right to be let alone and to make choices without regard to others"—but only "within limits." They make it clear that one element of their incessant appeals to patriotism is a relatively cold calculation: it's meant to "trump" this type of "freedom talk."

The book is broken up by occasional quotes from founding documents and famous speeches. JFK is there, as are RFK, FDR, and MLKJr. No Reagan though. The last Republican they seem to have actually liked was Teddy Roosevelt.

Which reminds me: there's a lot in this book that reminds me of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism. Someone with time on their hands should read them in parallel, cross-referencing descriptive sections of Jonah's book with examples from Liu/Hanauer.


Last Modified 2018-04-17 6:47 AM EST