TIME FOR A NEW SURGE—OF PATRIOTISM

We joke about political pork. We laugh at the Defense Department paying $600 for a toilet seat. We tolerate the confused craziness of the farm subsidy program. Forty years ago, former Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.” Adjusting for inflation, “A trillion here, a trillion there . . .”

Such cynical sentiments about our government used to be funny because they seemed harmless. After all, the country has rolled along quite nicely as long as anyone living can remember. The stock market and housing prices kept rising and gas (despite a spike last summer) has remained relatively cheap for a comfortable long while. As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. Flawed though our government is, it is still the best. We cannot expect perfection. A little graft here and a little pork there is to be expected. We were generally a country of patriots, served by patriots who wanted nothing more than for the United States to continue its course of greatness.

It’s not so funny any more as the threat of another Great Depression-like economic fiasco looms large, and this time the blame lies mainly with ourselves. Nearly every person you talk to can easily imagine his or her livelihood horrifically impacted by the financial threat, which carries as negative an effect on our way of life as a once-a-decade terrorist attack on our soil. America’s brand of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness takes work by every citizen, work the general citizenry has shirked, myself included.

After September 11, 2001, expressions of patriotism soared. Military enlistment rose significantly, accompanied by unprecedented public support for those fighting outside America’s borders. Civilians sported lapel pins, flew the flag and displayed bumper stickers that declared one’s dedication to the country. Initially, Congress gave Commander in Chief Bush nearly everything he asked for to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In our current crisis (and if you don’t believe America is in a crisis, read the comics instead), now is the time for another surge in patriotism, which is not just for war. No one can define it, but various definitions of patriotism will remind you of what it is. Country first. Devotion to country. Love of country. The word country appears every time.

The surge must come from the bottom, where the average American resides, because it has been lacking at the top. We just can’t consent to be led any more by people who were asleep at the switch, or rather, were paying attention to a different switch—that of the interest of their particular political party instead of the best interests of the country. It is doubtful that the people who could have and should have acted to avert the financial crisis had the best interest of the country at heart.

Sure, if there had not been rampant greed on Wall Street and fortunes to be made in poorly regulated markets, this crisis might not have occurred. But the role of government is to provide for a sound economy to function, and that role was vacated by our leaders. At most, we have had some finger pointing in a childish display of political accountability. You indict your most culpable set of leaders, as I will mine, but the list is long and includes people who have been abdicating their responsibilities as far back as 30 years. The government has suffered from complacency that has devolved into bureaucratic negligence.

A new surge in patriotism includes what is best for the country. Until now, it seems as if the government bailout has paid particular attention to what is best for Wall Street, with GM next, and soon many other large businesses who mismanaged themselves. The good of the country has been subjugated to the interests of its largest private interests.

This is not a call for a social revolution, because the revolution is already here. The government may soon own a stake in GM and other car makers. It now has a say in the operation of the nation’s largest banks. In the past several decades, through the actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government has been acquiring a large stake in millions of mortgages. We now pay mercenaries (private contractors whose prime motivation for the war seems to be profit) to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of our new president’s priorities is to gain control over another 16% of the GDP in the name of providing universal health care. The revolution has begun.

A testament to America’s greatness is that nearly all such social revolutions have been peaceful. Big changes are going to happen, so we citizens might as well direct the flow of the revolution more to our liking. How to do this is more than just a tricky question. Trusting in Barack Obama as our rescuer is not the sole answer. Many of us, including those of us who did not vote for him, wish him all success and hope that his promise of representing “main street” will be upheld. But these promises have been made before by politicians as seemingly capable and charismatic as he, without the desired results. We can’t just cross our fingers and hope that he succeeds, and we can’t wait until he fails if he does.

The late William F. Buckley said (in a paraphrase of H.L. Mencken), “The problem with Communism is Communism. The problem with Capitalism is capitalists.” Capitalism has not failed America; politics and politicians have failed Capitalism, and in turn America.

Capitalism, like patriotism, requires vigilance, and those who were elected to be vigilant have failed. It is now up to us, the common citizen patriot, to remind those at the top the meaning of patriotism.

Strong families, strong communities, strong defense and a strong economy are essentials of the American brands of capitalism and patriotism. Capitalism and patriotism involve many efforts and take many forms: military service, volunteerism (the country needs it now), donations (time, money, or whatever can help another person), leading youth (scout leader, coach of a youth sports team). Attend a city council or school board meeting. Write your Congressman or go to one of his events and voice your opinion to his or her face. Celebrate Independence Day for what it is and not just another day off. Partake in the holidays honoring servicemen. Inform yourself about the events of the day so that you can act and vote accordingly, and you can do this by reallocating some of your free time spent watching an NFL game or for a glimpse of Britney Spears’ underwear, playing mindless video games, doing drugs or drinking excessively, doing too much Sudoku, whatever—find an hour a week—you can do it. Voting straight party has also failed. The very act of voting does not make for a patriotic citizen, but voting for your country does.

You figure it out for yourself!

America’s success depends on the success of the individual. Not the profit—but the success as defined by strong families, strong communities, a strong defense and a strong economy. Have faith in what is printed on our coins—E pluribus unum—from one, many. I will do the same. Maybe our leaders will catch on, and America will continue to succeed.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Cairo is an author, speaker and publisher. His interests range from sports to current events/politics and history of all kinds.