The Left Side of Vigilance
What happens when a Right Wing Conservative goes to a Left Wing Meeting?  Dissent Magazine hosted a panel to ask:  "Can the Left Wave Flags and be Patriotic?"  Learn how the moderate left--the Dissent Left, opposes the Radical Left's "tear-down-the-flag-and-burn-it" attitude.  Learn why the moderate left doesn't agree with its radical fringe that "America deserved what happened on Nine Eleven."   Learn the difference between mindless patriotism and critical patriotism.  Which do you practice?   Why?


Tuesday--October 8
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 391
Can The Left Be Patriotic?

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 8--Last night President Bush gave a speech that moved the United States another yard toward the goal of waging war on Iraq.   The major networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, chose not to air it.  Was this an act of Vigilance, or one of Terrorism? 

        Network spokesmen said the White House had not "requested" network coverage, and opted instead to run new "season" prime-time shows.  Their reasoning: the President's speech was more "political" than "nationally urgent."  The speech, however, was "urgent."  It was specifically designed to win support of the American public to launch war on Iraq.  When the call to war becomes less important than a soap opera, our nation suffers from the disease of Complacency.

        Instead of watching the speech, I chose to go face-to-face with those whom the President was trying to "sell" into supporting the War on Iraq-- America's Left Wing.          
      My wife and I attended a meeting sponsored by Dissent Magazine at the famous and historic National Art Club in the Chelsea district of New York City.

Jim Sleeper, Michael Kazin, Joanne Barkan, Maxine Phillips

  The prestigious club is housed in Samuel Tilden's former mansion.  Tilden, like Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost the electoral to President Hayes in 1876.
      We sat in the Grand Gallery.  The walls were anointed with paintings of all different sizes and shapes.   The heavy oak richness of the room and stained glass exuded a sense of sanctuary from a nation precariously balance on the razor's edge of war.
     The Liberal panel discussion was billed "United We Stand? Citizenship, Patriotism and the Left" but the forum's basic theme was:  "Can The Left Be Patriotic?"

      A distinguished panel of "leftist" writers, professors and thinkers sat at the head table, ready to issue their answers to a perplexing and paradoxical question.  The panelists included authors Joanne Barkan and Jim Sleeper, Georgetown University history professor Michael Kazin and Dissent Magazine's managing editor, Maxine Phillips.
     My wife and I felt a bit like George Bush attending a meal with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, for we are staunch Republicans, relatively fresh from Orange Country, California where perhaps the most Right-Wing of the Right has encamped itself and established defacto borders to keep out anyone out who won't surrender to waving flags and promoting classic, ideal Americanism.   We had no idea what to expect.
         I whispered to my wife as we entered, "Don't put our name and address on anything.  Use S's."   Our older daughter, "S," is a "leftist" in many ways.   She is a Democrat and works with the homeless and disenfranchised people of New York City.  Plus, she just finished her Masters of Divinity from New York Theological Union.  She and her husband both are major contributors to the Catholic Worker, one of the world's largest publications promoting "non-violent left-wing" thinking--i.e.. anti-war, anti-government, anti-capitalism, anti-technology..  
         Where her politics depart from the Far Left is in the area or violence and confrontational radicalism to effect change..   She avoids the Far Left because its constituents tend to promote violence. Her diet of "leftism" is peaceful protestation, non-confrontational protest.  Neither my wife nor I have any idea where she developed her opinions.   However, we always respected them even though we didn't agree in whole with them.   In a nutshell, we were conditioned to the "left," but had never gone out of our way to be part of their thinking, or to learn what the roots of their beliefs were.  In fairness to the left, we decided to hear their views from the "horses mouth."

       I was interested in what the Left had to say on the issue of Patriotism, especially in the face of  the impending issue of war. As a former U.S. Marine and war veteran, I still drip with steel reinforced Conservatism.  I think it oozed into my pores from living over three decades in Orange County, California.  But nearly three years in New York City's diversity of opinions had helped soften my Conservative shields, and allowed me to feel comfortable within the group.   Plus, I had my reporter's hat on, willing to hear both sides of the issues. As my wife and I walked quietly into the Grand Gallery, we mutually vowed to keep our mouths shut no matter how eager or moved  I might be to stand and disagree with what was being said.
      I was profoundly surprised at what I heard.   Either I changed, or the Left isn't so bad after all..
      The speakers targeted one issue-- the need for the more moderate Left--what one speaker called the "Dissent Left"--to keep its Voice heard over the din of the radical Left, or what the speaker termed "Blame-America-First-Left."
      The Blame-America-First-Leftist (B-A-F-L) are the extreme dissenters.   According to Ms. Barkan, they are "negative nationalists," people who are purely negative and resentful against the United States and do everything to alienate themselves from duties or responsibilities to the country.   They wish to "burn the flag," rather than "wash it," which is the more moderate Leftist approach promoted by Norman Thomas.

Cliff and Lori enjoying the 'liberal' evening in elegant surrounding

     The B-A-F-L, the speakers agreed, captures the media's attention through negative radicalism.   Immediately after Nine Eleven B-A-F-L spokespeople boasted that the Terrorist attack was the result of America's aggressions on other nations, a blowback effect of  its attempt to undermine nations by putting in puppet governments and oppressing  people within underdeveloped nations.  By the Far Left's standards, "America got just what it deserved."
      The Dissent Left panelists stood in disagreement with the radical view of B-A-F-Lism.  While they had no solutions to the problem of helping the world see the Left was not a destructive but constructive force, they did propose the need for the moderate Left message to neutralize the radical Left's "tear-it-down-and-burn-it" image.. 
      Negative nationalism versus dissent nationalism was, according to the speakers, the difference between making no moral effort to examine the flaws of negative thinking versus using one's reasoning to see both sides of the issue.  In other words, the radical Left used knee jerk reactions to flail against America, while the moderate Left  talked about doing something, but never got around to it.
      A gentleman from Spain proposed a question to the forum that I found summarized the dilemma.   His question couched in a statement was:   "Does the moderate Left suffer because it thinks about what it is going to say before saying it, versus the radical Left that barks out its hatred and vehemence against the United States reactively."
      His point was similar to the Far Right's knee-jerk reaction to dissent--"The American Way or the Highway," versus the Far Left's view:  "America Sucks!"
      Another audience member stood and asked if was okay for a Leftist to fly the American Flag.

      The Spaniards question led the discussion to discuss two types of patriotism--mindless patriotism and critical patriotism.   Mindless patriotism, the forum agreed, was the idea of "my country right or wrong," while "critical patriotism" involved the moral duty of a citizen to examine the issues and to promote the good of it while pointing out its flaws.

Jim Sleeper

      Mr. Sleeper, political science teacher from Yale,  shared a story that probably answered the question best about Leftists flying American Flags.   He cited a party of Leftists who gathered to discuss the issue of patriotism.   During the discussion, the question came up about why people flew the flag.  As the high intellectualism raged in search of a profound answer, none was found until one person looked up over the rim of his glass and simply said:  "They fly the flag because they feel bad about what happened on Nine Eleven."
       The most poignant comment I heard all evening came from Ms. Barkan.   The discussion was how the moderate Left could get its Voice heard over the radical Left's "Blame America First" negative nationalism.   Her answer made the most sense.   "When we fear to express our patriotism," Barkan said, "it blunts our liberalism."
       In the end, there were no clear answers to flying the flag, or to countering the radical Left's ability to grab headlines and make all Leftists appear anti- or un-American..
      If there was a conclusion regarding the issue of Patriotism and the Left, it was a challenge by the panelists to stir the pot, and to get people to define what patriotism means to them, rather than to blindly toss it out as a symbol of mindless acceptance versus giving it critical evaluation, which includes the good and the bad of it.
       I wondered how many Americans offered "mindless acceptance" to our flag and country?  I did.  I do.  But for specific reasons.
       I never question the singular goal of America's original formation--"to offer all its citizens the right to rise above themselves."   If democracy has one bull's-eye over all other governing structures, is to allow any immigrant to come to America, work hard, and rise to the top of his or her dreams. This seems to me to be the unquestionable value of Freedom and Democracy.  No other nation offers it children the legacy of such Freedom.  Not waving a flag means a denial of the right to achieve.
       This morning I read the reviews of President Bush's speech calling for American support of the impending war should Saddam Hussein fail to meet the demands of the U.S. for weapons inspection.   I saw words such as "evil," and Hussein a "student of Stalin," and references to Hussein's "nuclear holy warriors."
      I found myself torn between "mindless patriotism" and "critical patriotism."
      As a warrior, I am eager to rid the world of the Beast of Terror.   But as a Parent and Grandparent and Citizen of Vigilance, I know that "killing Hussein" or "killing bin Laden" is not the solution.   I know also that radical Leftism is not the answer.   Burning the flag is no response to making the world safer.  Neither is sitting around and intellectualizing what we should do.

       I have been a student of Thomas Paine, one of our nation's foremost "leftists," for as many years as I can think back.   Paine, perhaps the single most important force in stirring the American Revolution through his Common Sense Pamphlets, literally forced the American public to stand up and fight for their freedom,    He was a critical patriot not a negative one.   He made it absolutely clear that "revolution for revolution's sake" was not the issue.  He proclaimed that to tear down a structure without having a better one to build upon was folly.
       He attacked "mindless patriotism."  
       But he promoted that America had a better system--democracy, of, by and for the people.  He also saw government only as a tool of the people, and not a parent, a father, a mother as the monarchies had been, treating their citizens as children.  Paine extolled the Rights of Man, that our power for governing ourselves came from a Divine Right, and no structure or system could stand above that right.  In that sense, he was an anarchist.  In another, he was a Sentinel of Vigilance.
       He was saying the Freedom from Terrorism is the duty and responsibility of each and every person, not the government or the church.   Through collective unification of parental duties, we owed it to our children to make the land safe and free for future generations.
       Unlike the radical left, he was saying:  "don't tear down the house your children live in and leave them homeless unless you have a better one to build for them on the drawing table."
       In more mundane terms, it's similar to quitting your job have another to replace it.    

Thomas Paine

      I find it difficult to support the war in Iraq under the principles of "mindless patriotism."   I've fought and killed and maimed to the waving of the flag, and now, as I am older and have the vision that youth denies its warriors, I see a deeper duty than just waging war to eliminate a threat.
       I want to know what structure we will build in the shell of Iraq's tyrannical  destruction.
       What would get me waving the flag is if the reconstruction of Iraq was based on its becoming a  State of Vigilance. And its Constitution is a statement that "no decision shall be made by the government until it is to the benefit of the children's children's children."    This would take Iraq to the highest level of governing possible--it would put the duty of leadership back on the doorsteps of its citizens, as America's was based on in 1776.

        Vigilance--the constitutional right of the children and the children's children's children to live in peace, security and prosperity--must be the most simple and architecturally sound solution to nation building.    If we wage war and destroy Iraq's leadership, we have a moral duty to build from the ashes that which the people of Iraq will claim as their own, and not one imposed upon them.
        Promoting the Pledge of Vigilance to the citizens of Iraq as a solution to their nation building question after the elimination of Hussein would satisfy the blank that now exists about "what do we do after the bombs?"  The parents, not the left or right ends of the citizenship, would rule the nation's destiny.
       However, I would not propose Iraq be subject to the Pledge of Vigilance until after the President of the United States offered it to all the citizens of America first.    If we are going to nation build, it should be by attraction rather than promotion, by modeling rather than by requiring.
        Few would argue a Vigilant State is a weak state.   Quite the contrary, it would be a strong state, for its decisions would be based on what is right for the children, and their children's children's children.  Switzerland is an example of a Vigilant State. In every household is a machine gun, and every citizen is part of the militia, trained and duty-bound to protect their land from the doorsteps of their homes.
        What's right for American children, or Swiss children, or English or French children, is right for children in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Africa, the Gold Coast and China.  How those rights are  delivered can be different, but the core of the delivery remains the same--peace and security.
         So I learned something from the Left last night.  I learned I could wave my flag with pride freedom, but only after I made sure what I was waving it for.  In my case, it was for a State of Vigilance, not a State of Terror.

Go To Oct 7 Story:  Building The Towers Of Vigilance

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