America: Love it, or in love with it?

Joel Stein tries to plumb the differences in patriotism between the Right and the Left in his somewhat satirical column on loving one’s country.  He admits that he doesn’t love America in a blind manner, but his assumption that conservatives do sets him on the wrong track:

I don’t love America. That’s what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there’s no winning.

But I’ve come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn’t love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I’m more in “like” with my country.

Fox News’ Sean Hannity loves this country so much, he did an entire episode of “Hannity’s America” titled “The Greatest Nation on Earth.” In that one hour he said, several times, “the U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth.” One of the surest signs of love is it makes you talk stupid.

Perhaps Stein doesn’t watch enough of Hannity to understand the program.  Hannity does not fill his program with nothing but hosannas to America.  In fact, as all conservative (and liberal) pundits do, Hannity spends almost all of his time pointing out what ails America and offers his solutions to the problems.  Those solutions run to conservative policies, especially on laissez-faire capitalism and strong national defense, and usually as correctives to what Hannity sees as failed liberal policies of the past and present.

Honestly, the second paragraph is about as patronizing and stupid a point as I’ve ever seen in a featured newspaper column.  Does Stein even bother to read conservatives or listen to them even for an hour?  Fifteen minutes?  I’ve never heard one yet that argues for America’s perfection or the need to freeze us in the current political and policy status quo.  It’s absurd on its face and should be embarrassing to the LA Times’ editors.

I don’t doubt the patriotism or love of country of liberals or conservatives.  I assume that their engagement in the political process is an expression of their love of country, just as I assume that veterans of all political stripes serve from that same love of America.  The difference between the two comes to whether they believe that America has served as a force of good for the world over the arc of its 232-year existence or whether our sins outweigh the good we have done.  Actually, that difference exists primarily with a subset of liberals on the hard Left, and not liberals as a whole.

That difference, which we commonly call American exceptionalism, defines the difference in patriotism and leads Stein to the ultimate conclusion of his column, which is that belief in that exceptionalism amounts to little more than tribalism.  I’d buy that if it wasn’t for the fact that more people leave their homes to come to America than any other country to find freedom, liberty, and a chance at prosperity.  We literally can’t keep people out of the United States, and it’s one of our more intractable political problems.  Vast numbers of Americans aren’t fleeing to Europe or Africa or Asia or even South America.  People from those lands flock to the US.  There’s a reason for that, and that migration pattern tells why American exceptionalism is real and not just some tribalistic, Neanderthal reaction to one’s birth place.

What comprises that exceptionalism?  Lady Logician has some thoughts:

Joel – the reasons most conservatives love America more are not “tribalistic” as you claim and no conservatives don’t hold the patent on loving America. The fact that you have bought into this absurd notion shows that you still don’t get it. The reason that conservatives like myself (as well as Jazz, his progressive wife Georg and my liberal co-workers) love America is because it is a place where we can all agree on the problem, disagree on the solution and still stand shoulder to shoulder to defend a country that may be flawed. It is still a place that we can stand tall and say that there is no place that we would rather be – in this time – than in this place….the United States of America.

America is not just a birthplace and isn’t really a nationality, at least not primarily.  It’s an idea and an ideal, and even when we fell far short of that ideal, we worked to correct ourselves.  We disagree on the ways to improve, which a free people can do, but most of us, liberals and conservatives alike, work hard on those solutions not because we don’t care enough but because we love America so much — the place, yes, but the idea and the ideal most of all.  We have freed more people in more ways than any other nation in history, and we have provided the highest overall standard of living in history as well.  And we can do even better — and we will.

If Stein still hasn’t figured that out, then he should stop writing for a while and start to learn about his country and what it really means, and what it has meant.