OK. Once. Once and only once am I doing this to Jonah Goldberg. He falls into the Brooks category, i.e. every single thing he's ever written is riddled with enough idiocy to merit dissection but I'm not about to donate my sanity to the process of rebutting him regularly. Jonah's brand of knee-jerk, fratboy libertarianism is very tough to stomach (accordingly I've edited out some repetitive or irrelevant portions of his lengthy column) so we will only do this to ourselves once. Click the "FJM" tag at the end of the post to learn more about the origins of this game.
The piece: "Obama's Real Patriotism Problem" syndicated in USA Today (h/t non-seq). Ready?
Barack Obama has a patriotism problem that even Monday's flag-waving trip to Independence, Mo., can't squelch. And it doesn't have anything to do with his lapel pin.
Great! That lapel pin thing was so stupid. Good on you, Jonah Goldberg, USA Today and its parent corporation Gannett News. Thank you for rising above that kind of irrelevant nonsense, which I'm certain, given the introduction, this piece is about to do.
In part because liberal commentators have such a hard time grasping why patriotism should be an issue at all, and the GOP is so clumsy explaining why it's important, the debate often gets boiled down to symbols.
Maybe the right-wing definition of patriotism is symbolic. That is, there really is no more to it than waving flags around and shouting "America! Woooooooooo!" It appears that Jonah doesn't like people who oversimplify patriotism, boiling it down to blind jingoism and symbols (this sentence is an example of a literary device known as "foreshadowing")
Like so much else about Obama, his position on the lapel flag changes with the needs of the moment. After 9/11, he wore it. During the debates over the Iraq war, he stopped because he saw the flag as a sign of support for President Bush. (He started wearing it again in May.) "I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest," he added in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism."
"That lapel pin debate is so stupid. Now I'm going to slam Obama for his various positions on what I just defined as an unimportant, irrelevant debate!"
Read that line again: "What I believe will make this country great." Not to sound too much like a Jewish mother, but some might respond, "What? It's not great now?"
Holy crap! We will now try to wrap our heads around the cerebellum-dissolving idea that some Americans might not be blindly enamored of their country's present level of Greatness!!! Greatness researchers at the University of Greatness can give you reams of data about how fucking great America is!!! How could this country not be great? Look at all of our malls! The NFL! Kenny Chesney! Monster Thickburgers! No federal estate taxes!
This sense that America is in need of fixing in order to be a great country points to Obama's real patriotism problem. And it's not Obama's alone.
Hmm, he's not alone. That's going to be a relevant statement if, hypothetically, Goldberg goes on to argue that Obama is out of touch because most Americans are really, really patriotic. Boy it sure would be embarassing if that happened.
Definitions of patriotism proliferate, but in the American context patriotism must involve not only devotion to American texts (something that distinguishes our patriotism from European nationalism) but also an abiding belief in the inherent and enduring goodness of the American nation. We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is.
(grabs butterknife, repeatedly slashes at both wrists in the appropriate "Up the river, not across the street" fashion)
YOU MADE ME DO THAT, JONAH. I CUT MYSELF BECAUSE YOU LIVE.
As I bleed out, let's enjoy the irony of someone who just wrote a book entitled Liberal Fascism talking about how all citizens "must" share a "devotion to American texts." Let us recite the Articles of Confederation for the glory of the fatherland! He is suggesting that we should love the country like a three year old loves Mommy: Mommy is perfect and Mommy is always right and everything Mommy does is wonderful and Our Mommy is better than yours.
It's the "good as it is" part that has vexed many on the left since at least the Progressive era. Marxists and other revolutionaries obviously don't believe entrepreneurial and religious America is good as it is. But even more mainstream figures have a problem distinguishing patriotic reform from reformation. Many progressives in the 1920s considered the American hinterlands a vast sea of yokels and boobs, incapable of grasping how much they needed what the activists were selling.
Don't you love Jonah's trademarked history-in-two-sentences-as-segue-to-talking-points introductions? I do!
The Nation ran a famous series then called "These United States," in which smug emissaries from East Coast cities chronicled the "backward" attitudes of what today would be called fly-over country. One correspondent proclaimed that in "backwoods" New York (i.e. outside the Big Apple): "Resistance to change is their most sacred principle." If that was their attitude to New York, it shouldn't surprise that they felt even worse about the South. One author explained that Dixie needed nothing less than an invasion of liberal "missionaries" so that the "light of civilization" might finally be glimpsed down there.
That sounds like a great idea to me. Before I completely exsanguinate can we note this as the first good idea Jonah Goldberg has ever presented in print?
These authors simply assumed, writes intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, that " 'breaking with the past' was the precondition of cultural and political advance." Even today, writes Time's Joe Klein, "This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right."
"Close with sentence quoting contemporary Democrat, even though this thought is completely disconnected from, and in no way supported by, the preceding 5 sentences in the paragraph."
"I am absolutely certain," he proclaimed upon clinching the Democratic nomination, "that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." So wait, America never provided care for the sick or good jobs for the jobless until St. Barack arrived?
No, it used to. And then it stopped when you fuckwads took over. Obama is unlikely to be canonized for the simple yet powerful act of not being one of you.
That doesn't sound like the country most Americans think of when they wave their flags on the Fourth of July.
Do you know how many undergraduates I have handed D's and F's for making baseless, unsupported, generalized attributions about what "most people" or "many Americans" think? Think about that, Jonah. You are a syndicated columnist and your writing would not merit a passing grade at an undergraduate level. If we're going to play the generalized attributions game, it might be more accurate to replace "most Americans" with "Republicans" or "Old people who sit outside the VFW all day" or "Jonah Goldberg." Who the hell are these people? Seriously, raise your hand if you spent July 4th "waving (your) flag."
Obama went on to say that he will "remake" the country. Well, what if you don't want it remade?
That's fine. There are always people who Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. History remembers them well, mostly because they are always victorious in holding back the evolution of ideas and social progress.
Michelle Obama — who believes America is "downright mean" and is proud of America for the first time because of her husband's success — insists that Barack will make you "work" for change and that he will "demand that you, too, be different." What if you don't want to work for Obama's change? What if you don't want to be "different"?
Then you vote for John McCain and devote one hour per week to watching Jonah Goldberg's excruciating, torturous webcasts. You raise your ignorant kids on Contemporary Christian and Discovery Institute textbooks, send your contributions to James Dobson, and cram your arteries full of Doritos and Hamburger Helper.
Liberals might giggle at what to them sounds like paranoia. But if you aren't already entranced by Obama, Obamania can seem not only vaguely anti-American but also downright otherworldly. Star Wars creator George Lucas recently proclaimed that it's "reasonably obvious" Obama is a Jedi Knight.
And now for a nice, non-sequitur Obama-bashing conclusion. It'll really help to quote metaphorical references out of context and take them literally! George Lucas (suspend disbelief and pretend that anyone gives a flying fuck what George "Creator of Jar-Jar" Lucas thinks) honestly believes Obama is a Jedi, because Jedi are obviously real. He meant this statement literally. The mitichlorians are strong in him! Many Bothans died to bring you this candidate. To be elected he must slay the Rancor.
Even NBC's Chris Matthews has been entranced by Obama's Jedi mind tricks. Obamania, he says, is "bigger than Kennedy. … This is the New Testament."
So wait, you're admitting that he's a Jedi? And Chris Matthews is your example of someone enraptured by Obama? Chris "Ask me what John McCain's cock tastes like and I will reply that it is slightly garlicky with some peaty notes and a hint of hickory" Matthews?
The notion that what America needs is a redeemer figure to "remake" America from scratch isn't necessarily unpatriotic. But for lots of Americans who like America the way it is, it's sometimes hard to tell when it isn't.
How many people like America the way it is, Jonah? Since you never leave the sweat-panted comfort of your mother's basement, you rely on this cute little mental image you've concocted of what "Americans" think. Go out and talk to some people, Jonah. Maybe even leave the big cities whose elitism you constantly criticize. I suspect that the only people who truly like America the way it is – love the war, love the obscene gas prices, love the horseshit economy – are the wealthy who are finding a way to profit from all of it. But in JonahWorldtm everyone spent July 4th painting themselves red, white and blue to match the flags we spent the entire day waving, remembering with every wave what a great, perfect country we have and how, as JonahPatriotstm, we fundamentally think it's just fine as-is.
More and more like Andy Rooney every week.