Friday, October 06, 2006

Time to take back the talk

Two weekends ago, I went to a party held by my friend Phillip. Every liberal in Lafayette was there, filling up half of the one-bedroom apartment quite nicely. Because of this cramming, some of us went outside for fresh air. It was there, on Phillip's balcony, that I found myself in a conversation about politics (naturally). And even though I had just met everyone involved, I found myself less apprehensive about the discussion than I typically would be with even my closest conservative friends. But I almost messed that up when I said this:

"I'm a real patriot!"

Cue record-scratch. Everyone just stared at me, dumbfounded. Then one guy said with a smirk, "Dude, you are totally in the wrong place to be saying stuff like that. If you only knew!"

For a second or two, I felt a strange mix of confusion, guilt and resentment. Fortunately, I quickly recovered and elaborated on what I meant:

"What I mean is that I'm a real patriot: someone who speaks out, believes in the First Amendment, loves freedom and doesn't blindly accept what's spoon-fed to us by the government. Especially the crap coming from this administration."

They all nodded their heads and went "Ah!" The original objector expressed his agreement with what I said, and the rest of the conversation went really well. I made a lot of friends that night.

Since then, I've replayed that exchange in my mind. For more than a decade, the Republican Party has hijacked words such as "patriot" to an enormously successful degree. It's worked so well that expressing love for this country's ideals is now tantamount to expressing love for GOP ideals. If you doubt that, consider what comes to mind when hearing words such as "patriotism," "loyalty," "freedom," "life" and even "democracy." Chances are, you'll think more of what Republicans have shaped them to mean, rather than what they actually mean.

But are any of these concepts--patriotism, loyalty, freedom, life and democracy--foreign to liberals? They certainly resonate with me; I consider myself a fervent adherent to all five. But then, I prefer to see them as George Washington did rather than as George W. does. And that distinction is increasingly lost on even the most observant progressives. This is a sad trend that must be reversed if we hope to reclaim the American body politic.

I hope everyone who reads this, regardless of beliefs, understands that being an American patriot involves exercising the freedom to speak for oneself. Loyalty is having faith in the American ideal, even if that means objecting to administrations that seek to undermine that ideal. Freedom is every citizen's right, and is not something that can be granted or deprived at will by anyone else. Life is far too significant to be used as a synonym for female repression. Democracy is a system that must lead by example, a far more effective tool for its spread than a million tanks.

We're in sad shape as a nation when even our defining terms are rhetorical poison. I can certainly understand why Phillip's friends bristled when I called myself a "patriot"; at the same time, however, it's sad. And it explains a lot why conservatives have such blanket support for otherwise unbelievable policies. As long as words mean things, they'll remain the most lethal weapons of all.


Donnie McDaniel said...

Well said, very well said indeed!

Phillip said...

I (naturally) know exactly what you mean. Think about the American flag even. At least in my mind, I've subconsciously come to see flag decals on cars as a pejorative, and the flag itself, in fact, because of the imposters who wrap themselves in it to further an agenda that has nothing to do with the fundamental principles of true patriotism, and in many instances stands in opposition to them.

Same with religion.

It's true that we have come to regard the terms you mentioned in a negative light, especially ironic considering that we (progressives, liberals) are the ones actually practicing the principles those words allude to.

Also, I love going outside to get some fresh air and smoke a cigarette. Good times :)

Ian McGibboney said...

Around your place, Phillip, "fresh air" is more like a figure of speech :) But I did have a good time nonetheless.

Cajun Tiger said...

Well Philip you better enjoy your cigarette while you can before your fellow "freedom loving" liberals completely ban you from doing it even in your own home.

Ian McGibboney said...

You know, CT, I get tired of your slippery slopes. There's a profound difference between wanting a smoke-free workplace and/or school, and trying to ban smoking in private homes. You sound like someone who's read the Turner Diaries way too much.

Phillip said...

I'm also pretty concerned that once gays are allowed to marry people will start marrying dogs. Really worried about all that.

Ian McGibboney said...

And once we consider dogs to be consenting adults, who's next? Illegal immigrants? What if they smoke?

Anonymous said...

no slippery slope...several libs have proposed such a bill in several states.

Ian McGibboney said...

Oh really? I defy you to show me a piece of legislation that regulates tobacco smoking in private homes. OR allowing humans to marry animals. Not sure to which one you were referring.

On the other hand, I'm sure I'd have no problem finding several ridiculous pieces of legislation drawn up by conservatives to regulate private behavior in the bedroom, among other rooms in the house.

Anonymous said...

I said several bills have been introduced but they never passed as of yet on smoking in your private home. The most common reason given is for families with children and likening it to child abuse. Someone on the NYC governing body tried when I lived up there and some town in Cali also tried.