Here’s the funny way the Washington Post celebrates the Fourth of July: it hands over the front of the Style section for a book review by Susan Jacoby, the leftist who hosts their website’s discussion group called "The Secularist’s Corner." In reviewing a book by liberal professor Woden Teachout on the uses of our flag, Jacoby instructs that patriotism is divided into two categories:
Teachout uses competing claims to the flag to trace the complicated relationship between American ideals of humanitarian patriotism, rooted in Enlightenment values of individual liberty and political equality, and nationalist patriotism, based on loyalty to a nation-state and emphasis on national security.
But don’t worry: Teachout believes that Barack Obama excels at both halves. But first, Jacoby must protest those dullards who put the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance:
The pledge of allegiance, intended to promote assimilation of immigrants, was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist, and it simply read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." Teachout fails to follow up and make the important point that the phrase "under God" was added to the pledge only in 1954. Regrettably, the author does not deal at any length with the conflation of religion, patriotism and flag worship during the McCarthy era and in recent years.
Jacoby concluded strangely that patriotism was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1943 by insisting Jehovah’s Witnesses would not have to say the Pledge of Allegiance. (That’s a victory for religious liberty, but not exactly for patriotism.)
This decision perfectly embodied the melding of humanitarian patriotism and nationalist patriotism, which Teachout discusses in her concluding remarks about the post-9/11 era and the 2008 presidential campaign. She sees Barack Obama's ability to elucidate both humanitarian and nationalist patriotism as a major political strength.
The author may well be right in her view of the president as a publicist in chief for both patriotic traditions. But her optimistic conclusion does not explain why Obama, faced with harsh criticism during his early primary campaign for failing to wear a flag lapel pin, now wears a flag pin on every public occasion. The founders, as "Capture the Flag" eloquently reminds us, didn't feel obliged to wear their patriotism on their lapels.
Most political observers would be completely mystified by the idea that Obama is a purveyor of "nationalist patriotism," given his tendency to apologize for American arrogance in every foreign land, or a preacher for "humanitarian patriotism," given his war on individual liberty in the economic sphere. But in the end, on Independence Day, the Post reader is left with the notion that "real patriots don't wear flag pins." To liberals, patriotism is always the last refuge of scoundrels.