Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich penned an op-ed blasting Republicans for “substitut[ing] partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.” He essentially argues Republicans are unpatriotic for seeking to dismantle government.
True patriots don’t hate the government of the United States. They’re proud of it. Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it.
But regressive Republicans loathe the government – and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it, and make the public so cynical about it that it’s no longer capable of doing much of anything. Tea Partiers are out to gut it entirely. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size it can be “drowned in a bathtub.”
When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, wealthy regressives claim “it’s my money.” But it’s their nation, too. And unless they pay their share America can’t meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.
I’ll start by acknowleging that I am very sympathetic to many of Reich’s sentiments. Modern Republicans are, in fact, unprecedentedly antagonistic, uncompromising and regressive. They have relentlessly and unconditionally derailed the president’s agenda, even on legislation they had previously supported. Republicans have become substantially more right wing over the last few decades, even as Democrats have remained more or less ideologically constant. This isn’t just my opinion; it’s literally scientific fact.
But Reich is wrong for equating liberalism with patriotism. He argues true patriotism is about “coming together for the common good,” which is liberals’ core justification for government involvement in the economy. While I agree that the interests of society are best met when we sometimes act collectively through government, I don’t believe those who disagree with me necessarily lack “love for or devotion to one’s country,” as Merriam-Webster defines patriotism. People differ on their interpretations of patriotism; some believe patriots must be unconditionally loyal to country, some express their patriotism through symbols and rituals, others believe true patriotism is achieved through constructive criticism and dissent of government. But no matter how one defines the concept, it is wrong to brand an entire ideology unpatriotic so long as it purports to protect and defend the best interests of the American people.
That said, there is a legitimate case to be made that modern Republicans don’t have America’s interests at heart, that they are intentionally sabotaging the economic recovery for political gain. Argues Michael Cohen:
For Democrats, perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence of GOP premeditated malice is the 2010 quote from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Beyond McConnell’s words, though, there is circumstantial evidence to make the case. Republicans have opposed a lion’s share of stimulus measures that they once supported, such as a payroll tax break, which they grudgingly embraced earlier this year. Even unemployment insurance, a relatively uncontroversial tool for helping those in an economic downturn, has been consistently held up by Republicans or used as a bargaining chip for more tax cuts. Ten years ago, prominent conservatives were loudly making the case for fiscal stimulus to get the economy going; today, they treat such ideas like they’re the plague.
Traditionally, during economic recessions, Republicans have been supportive of loose monetary policy. Not this time. Instead, Republicans have upbraided Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for even considering policies that focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.
And then, there is the fact that since the original stimulus bill passed in February of 2009, Republicans have made practically no effort to draft comprehensive job creation legislation. Instead, they continue to pursue austerity policies, which reams of historical data suggest harms economic recovery and does little to create jobs. In fact, since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Republicans have proposed hardly a single major jobs bill that didn’t revolve, in some way, around their one-stop solution for all the nation’s economic problems: more tax cuts.
Moreover, journalist Roger Draper’s recent book reported a prominent group of 15 senior Republican figures, including Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, Jon Kyl, Newt Gingrich and Republican pollster Frank Luntz, planned on the day of Obama’s inauguration to, in the words of McCarthy, “challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”
A slew of prominent Democrats have subscribed to this conspiracy theory, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Obama chief political strategist David Axelrod. Amazingly, nearly half of the country agrees, according to a recent poll.
However, even if it is true that some Republican government elites are, in fact, unpatriotic, this does not prove that anti-government dogmatism is unpatriotic, as Reich suggests. It is likely that the majority of Republican politicians, and, of course, ordinary conservative Americans, have pursued their radical agenda out of sincere love for country, and are therefore genuine patriots. If true, the group of unpatriotic, and frankly treasonous, Republican politicians who are willfully sabotaging the country are not acting out of hatred of government, but out of rank selfishness, insensitivity and cruelty.