Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Freedom's just another word?

Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card was featured in a short, light-hearted Q&A in Sunday's Boston Globe magazine (can't find a link). Each Sunday, the Globe interviews a Massachusetts native, revealing non-controversial information like their favorite restaurant in Boston. Card describes his favorite dessert made by the White House chefs, called "chocolate freedom." Gag. Not the dessert, which sounded chocolate-y and tasty, but the stupid name. I hate the way Republicans today, and the Bush Administration particularly, feel the need to insert their patriotic feelings into absolutely everything, no matter how trivial and irrelevant. Chocolate freedom? Freedom fries? Please. What's next, Constitution coasters? Founding Father floor wax? Concepts like freedom are important and meaningful, and when you attach them to trivial things...well, you trivialize them.

And don't get me started on the enforced singing of God Bless America in the 7th inning stretch of every baseball game since September 11th...

Seriously, I think it's a bad idea to make patriotic expressions so commonplace that they become routine. I don't think this helps reinforce patriotism in a meaningful way; it's just one more thoughtless routine.

At the Army-Navy club, the menu features "freedom" fries -- but "French" toast! Does this mean we can all be friends at breakfast?

I agree that the ubiquitous displays of patriotism cheapens it all somehow. A couple of years ago, lots of people put flags or flag window decals on their cars. Of course, the flags blew off the cars and ended up in the gutter and the decals now look faded and ratty. Can't we do better than that?
Not if you eat french fries for breakfast, as I would recommend. (Welcome back, mysterious poster.)
Just be grateful you do have patriotism here. Ok, some individuals and groups do take it to rabid extremes and use it as justification for saying and doing bad (and stupid) things. But in other countries like, ooh, England, for example, any patriotism is seen as a sign of racism and therefore not permissible. There was an incident a while back where a shopkeeper was told he had to paint over the Union Jack flag he'd painted on his shopfront for fear it may offend local Asian immigrants. And it has got to that point now where there appears to be no pride in the country and its achievements/achievers just in case someone's upset by it. So which way would you prefer to have it here?
Anonymous makes a good point. But, why do you think this phenomenon happened in England? Was it because some people did use the flag in a racist exclusionary way, and that use led to a backlash against such symbols?

I do worry about that a little bit here in the US - if patriotic symbols are used to divide people, will some feel that they can't participate? (People say things like "As a liberal Democrat, I feel uncomfortable flying the flag because people will think I believe George Bush is a great president or that the war in Iraq was a wonderful idea or what have you.") Isn't there some self-censorship happening already?
I think Anon's point is good also. Both England and America have things to be legitimately proud of, and there's no reason not to show it. More importantly, though, I do think it's really important that Americans (to speak of a country I can legitimately comment on) actively think of what is good about this country, so they can be sure to protect it. Which is partly why, in fact, I hate that dopey patriotism, as it doesn't encourage real thinking about what's really important. Maybe if the dessert was called the Chocolate Freedom of Speech, or something. But just saying "freedom freedom freedom" all the time -- well, it becomes banal.
On the point about patriotism being partisan -- it does often seem that liberals have an excessive allergy to patriotic expressions, while conservatives have an obsessive need to declare their patriotic feelings at all times. Naturally, I feel the best way is somewhere in between. I'm so moderate, it makes me ill.
Both countries' patriotism has been hijacked by extremists who use the rallying call of the flag to incite dislike and hatred of anything not inherent to the country. It was realised this was happening in England and patriotism came to be associated with racism, and is now shunned in the same way. The excessive fervour of supposed patriots in the US is going to start provoking a similar reaction whilst it continues that one can use patriotism as an easy excuse to be distrustful of, or not wanting to have anything to do with, anything foreign.
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