Once again on a patriotic holiday, only two flags flew on my block, and it breaks my heart. What is it about liberals that makes so many so disinclined to embrace patriotic symbols, to show the world that they care?
My block is in upper Northwest Washington, D.C., a beating heart of liberal America. On the Fourth of July, as usual, one flag was flown by a couple who had long government careers in defense and science. The other was at my house.
For many years the only flag enthusiast in our household was my husband, a Southerner who served in the Army during the Vietnam era. His devotion -- he has never missed a holiday -- was slightly embarrassing to me. I loved my country, but I wanted to perfect it. I went into journalism in hopes of improving it. Mine was a somewhat querulous love. It certainly wasn't overt or emotional.
That all changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I happened to be in Montclair, N.J., that day, 12 miles directly west of the World Trade Center. I stood on a lookout across the Hudson River and watched it collapse.
The emotional aftermath of that day has stayed with me all these years. It's not that I suddenly became blind to my country's flaws. But practically overnight I began to feel a visceral love for its ideals and possibilities, and a strong protective urge. The idea of America the vulnerable, America under threat, was new. Driving back to Washington a few days after the attacks, I was beside myself on behalf of the cows in the fields I passed. They tried to kill you, I said to the cows. My country's cows. My cows.
My first flag was a 3x5 sticker that I put on the back window of my (at that time Japanese) car. I had two of them, so I put the other on the screen door of my house. I became proud of the large flag adorning our porch on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day, the Fourth of July. It did not seem to me that this constituted putting my brain or critical faculties in a blind trust. Who would not want to remember and celebrate our soldiers, the birth of our nation?
I spent the year of 2001 doing research into the "two Americas" revealed in the 2000 election and gained an understanding of why some people don't like to put up flags
. To them it signals not patriotism but nationalism. The displays remind them of Germany under Hitler, and, inevitably, the relatives they lost in Europe. In other cases, flying flags is just not something that people do. It wasn't a family custom when they were growing up, and it doesn't mean much to them now.
There are no doubt active resisters. They are skeptics, critics, questioners. This is the way they approach life, not just their relationship with their country. These are the people who don't buy American cars because they think that foreign cars are better, and until recently, they would have been right.
Last year, when the U.S. auto industry was on the verge of collapse, I wrote about the cars on my block
. I counted 17 foreign cars versus three American (including one of mine). A terrible ratio, especially since domestic cars are much more competitive now on quality, style and reliability. Still, that was one more U.S. car than U.S. flag.
Liberal politicians have so much trouble proving they are patriots, even those with stellar service records (George McGovern
was a World War II bomber pilot; John Kerry
earned five medals in Vietnam). They spend a good portion of their campaigns trying, and often failing, to reclaim patriotism and patriotic symbols for the Democratic Party.
The task would be a lot easier for Democrats, particularly presidential candidates, if liberals became unabashed flag-wavers. It's not an impossible prospect. Granted, it's sometimes hard to love this country as it is, but it's easy to love it for what it aims to be. That's how I think of the flag, and that's how this onetime closet patriot learned to love waving it.
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