Here's a message forwarded from a good friend in Philadelphia, Gerald Ney. It seems rather long for a speech, but it's danged eloquent. Reminds me of George Washington. aw
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The America We Love
On a spring morning in April of 1775, a simple band of colonists -
farmers and merchants, blacksmiths and printers, men and boys - left
their homes and families in Lexington and Concord to take up arms
against the tyranny of an Empire. The odds against them were long and the risks enormous - for even if they survived the battle, any ultimate failure would bring charges of treason, and death by hanging.
And yet they took that chance. They did so not on behalf of a particular
tribe or lineage, but on behalf of a larger idea. The idea of liberty.
The idea of God-given, inalienable rights. And with the first shot of that fateful day - a shot heard round the world - the American Revolution, and America's experiment with democracy, began.
Those men of Lexington and Concord were among our first patriots. And at
the beginning of a week when we celebrate the birth of our nation, I think it is fitting to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of patriotism - theirs, and ours. We do so in part because we are in the
midst of war - more than one and a half million of our finest young men
and women have now fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; over 60,000 have been
wounded, and over 4,600 have been laid to rest. The costs of war have
been great, and the debate surrounding our mission in Iraq has been
fierce. It is natural, in light of such sacrifice by so many, to think more deeply about the commitments that bind us to our nation, and to each other.
We reflect on these questions as well because we are in the midst of a
presidential election, perhaps the most consequential in generations; a contest that will determine the course of this nation for years, perhaps decades, to come. Not only is it a debate about big issues - health
care, jobs, energy, education, and retirement security - but it is also
a debate about values. How do we keep ourselves safe and secure while
preserving our liberties? How do we restore trust in a government that
seems increasingly removed from its people and dominated by special
interests? How do we ensure that in an increasingly global economy, the winners maintain allegiance to the less fortunate? And how do we resolve our differences at a time of increasing diversity?
Finally, it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the
question of who is - or is not - a patriot all too often poisons our
political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us
together. I have come to know this from my own experience on the
campaign trail. Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for
President. And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I
have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged - at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I
So let me say at this at outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.
My concerns here aren't simply personal, however. After all, throughout
our history, men and women of far greater stature and significance than
me have had their patriotism questioned in the midst of momentous
debates. Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out
to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John
Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule. Likewise, even our wisest Presidents have sought to justify questionable policies on the basis of patriotism. Adams' Alien and
Sedition Act, Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, Roosevelt's
internment of Japanese Americans - all were defended as expressions of patriotism, and those who disagreed with their policies were sometimes labeled as unpatriotic.
In other words, the use of patriotism as a political sword or a
political shield is as old as the Republic. Still, what is striking
about today's patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted
in the culture wars of the 1960s - in arguments that go back forty years
or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic.
Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties
reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by
attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America
itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong
with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those
veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national
shame to this day .
Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views - these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America's traditions and
institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never
entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in
these old, threadbare arguments - a fact most evident during our recent
debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.
Given the enormous challenges that lie before us, we can no longer afford these sorts of divisions. None of us expect that arguments about
patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue
about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more
importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or
political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit.
What would such a definition look like? For me, as for most Americans,
patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country
rooted in my earliest memories. I'm not just talking about the
recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Thanksgiving pageants at
school or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as wonderful as those things may be. Rather, I'm referring to the way the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather's shoulders
and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii. I remember the
cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do. That's my idea of America.
I remember listening to my grandmother telling stories about her work on
a bomber assembly-line during World War II. I remember my grandfather handing me his dog-tags from his time in Patton's Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his
greatest sources of pride. That's my idea of America.
I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit
(Click here to read the Declaration)
I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to
every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years
abroad. That's my idea of America.
As I got older, that gut instinct - that America is the greatest country
on earth - would survive my growing awareness of our nation's
imperfections: it's ongoing racial strife; the perversion of our
political system laid bare during the Watergate hearings; the wrenching
poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the hills of Appalachia. Not only
because, in my mind, the joys of American life and culture, its
vitality, its variety and its freedom, always outweighed its
imperfections, but because I learned that what makes America great has
never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better. I
came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that
belief - that we could be governed by laws, not men; that we could be
equal in the eyes of those laws; that we could be free to say what we
want and assemble with whomever we want and worship as we please; that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.
For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular
community, without even a father's steadying hand, it is this essential American idea - that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will - that has defined my life, just as
it has defined the life of so many other Americans.
That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a
place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America's ideals - ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this
loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and
ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the
application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the
opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted,
tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or
Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive.
I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America.
Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because
our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of
Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the
time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our
leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the
dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.
The young preacher from Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a
movement to help America confront our tragic history of racial injustice
and live up to the meaning of our creed - he was a patriot. The young
soldier who first spoke about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib - he is a
patriot. Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country's name;
insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution - these are
the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best
in America. And we should never forget that - especially when we
disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with
Beyond a loyalty to America's ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on
behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to
mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice - to give up
something we value on behalf of a larger cause. For those who have
fought under the flag of this nation - for the young veterans I meet
when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured
physical torment in service to our country - no further proof of such
sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever
devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign,
and that goes for supporters on both sides.
We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men
and women in uniform. Period. Indeed, one of the good things to emerge
from the current conflict in Iraq has been the widespread recognition
that whether you support this war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our
troops is always worthy of honor.
For the rest of us - for those of us not in uniform or without loved ones in the military - The call to sacrifice for the country's greater
good remains an imperative of citizenship. Sadly, in recent years, in
the midst of war on two fronts, this call to service never came. After
9/11, we were asked to shop. The wealthiest among us saw their tax
obligations decline, even as the costs of war continued to mount. Rather
than work together to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and thereby
lessen our vulnerability to a volatile region, our energy policy
remained unchanged, and our oil dependence only grew.
In spite of this absence of leadership from Washington, I have seen a
new generation of Americans begin to take up the call. I meet them
everywhere I go, young people involved in the project of American
renewal; not only those who have signed up to fight for our country in
distant lands, but those who are fighting for a better America here at
home, by teaching in underserved schools, or caring for the sick in
understaffed hospitals, or promoting more sustainable energy policies in
their local communities.
I believe one of the tasks of the next Administration is to ensure that
this movement towards service grows and sustains itself in the years to
come. We should expand AmeriCorps and grow the Peace Corps. We should
encourage national service by making it part of the requirement for a
new college assistance program, even as we strengthen the benefits for
those whose sense of duty has already led them to serve in our military.
We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or
legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must
reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our
culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.
As we begin our fourth century as a nation, it is easy to take the
extraordinary nature of America for granted. But it is our
responsibility as Americans and as parents to instill that history in
our children, both at home and at school. The loss of quality civic
education from so many of our classrooms has left too many young
Americans without the most basic knowledge of who our forefathers are, or what they did, or the significance of the founding documents that
bear their names. Too many children are ignorant of the sheer effort,
the risks and sacrifices made by previous generations, to ensure that this country survived war and depression; through the great struggles for civil, and social, and worker's rights.
Click here to read President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
It is up to us, then, to teach them. It is up to us to teach them that
even though we have faced great challenges and made our share of
mistakes, we have always been able to come together and make this nation
stronger, and more prosperous, and more united, and more just. It is up
to us to teach them that America has been a force for good in the world,
and that other nations and other people have looked to us as the last,
best hope of Earth. It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give
back to one's community; that it is honorable to serve in the military;
that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices
And it is up to us to teach our children a lesson that those of us in
politics too often forget: that patriotism involves not only defending
this country against external threat, but also working constantly to
make America a better place for future generations.
When we pile up mountains of debt for the next generation to absorb, or
put off changes to our energy policies, knowing full well the potential
consequences of inaction, we are placing our short-term interests ahead
of the nation's long-term well-being. When we fail to educate
effectively millions of our children so that they might compete in a
global economy, or we fail to invest in the basic scientific research
that has driven innovation in this country, we risk leaving behind an
America that has fallen in the ranks of the world. Just as patriotism
involves each of us making a commitment to this nation that extends
beyond our own immediate self-interest, so must that commitment extends
beyond our own time here on earth.
Our greatest leaders have always understood this. They've defined
patriotism with an eye toward posterity. George Washington is rightly
revered for his leadership of the Continental Army, but one of his
greatest acts of patriotism was his insistence on stepping down after
two terms, thereby setting a pattern for those that would follow,
reminding future presidents that this is a government of and by and for
Abraham Lincoln did not simply win a war or hold the Union together. In
his unwillingness to demonize those against whom he fought; in his
refusal to succumb to either the hatred or self-righteousness that war
can unleash; in his ultimate insistence that in the aftermath of war the
nation would no longer remain half slave and half free; and his trust in
the better angels of our nature - he displayed the wisdom and courage
that sets a standard for patriotism.
And it was the most famous son of Independence, Harry S Truman, who sat
in the White House during his final days in office and said in his
Farewell Address: "When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a
million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential
task...But through all of it, through all the years I have worked here
in this room, I have been well aware than I did not really work alone -
that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our
country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people
helped with their support."
In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my
mind - not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular
love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart
swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the
lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this
country - its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and
the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor
and quiet heroism.
That is the liberty we defend - the liberty of each of us to pursue our
own dreams. That is the equality we seek - not an equality of results,
the community we strive to build - one in which we trust in this
sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist
that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in
which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped
up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America's happy and
Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of