I am an American. It’s a label we wear like a lapel pin, often literally. We insist that it be on our politicians so we know they are Americans too, especially if they don’t have an American name, like Smith, Jones or Grant, Rosetti, O’hara or Goldberg. Why do we do that? Because we have been labeled ourselves. The politicians want us to think of ourselves as the ones who love our country so much, we have to vote for these people to support the country we love, in the way we love it. That is what makes them successful at their job, inasmuch as their fight for or against legislation is always spun as a fight for us, the dutiful, dues paying, campaign contributing, citizen voter.
When we go to support a candidate now, we are no longer just pinned with a round, tin button with the office seeker’s name and some version of the American tri-color on it. We are pinned to a listserv and a website cookie. We are notched as accessible to all with the same political ilk, much in the way flim-flammers and beggars used to nick or draw strokes into the doorways of the gullible, the easy “marks.”
We do this willingly, because when it comes to God and country, we approach it all with the same voluntary abandonment of necessary critical thinking. It’s what politicians count on. It’s what the Republican parade of presidential hopefuls were counting on when they each addressed the conservative Faith and Freedom Conference, meeting in Washington, DC, last week.
During a rousing speech, Friday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was getting the crowd at to flutter their “conservative” and “family values” labels like pennants on a string at a used car lot.
According to a report from the National Journal, which covered the parade of Republican candidates and near-candidates at the event:
“…the standing ovation Bachmann drew Friday–the first of the day to come in the middle of a speech–came when the congresswoman shifted to her signature attack on President Obama’s health care reform.
” ‘We will repeal Obamacare–it will happen,’ she said, growing louder with encouragement from the crowd. ‘I will not rest until we appeal Obamacare; America will not rest until we repeal Obamacare. We’ll take it to the bank … the American people are with us on this issue!’ she shouted.”
Just try to stand up, idealized, political pin-cushion that you are, and get your spiked body out one door and into another, without performing a pin-ectomy. It can’t be done, and pushing the familiar political points deeper into your body only makes it harder to move out of the room.
The people at that conference couldn’t do it. They were having too much fun listening to Bachmann, and bearing their collective chest so she could throw more message carrying barbs deep into their skin.
“She will be my first choice,” one unabashedly enthusiastic woman in the crowd told the Weekly Standard. “She has morals.” Morals. That’s a label this woman will not give up easily.
Just as interesting is how still the flags were when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) called for discipline, and exhorted the attendees not attach a test of “purity” to any specific candidate. “In politics,” he said, “purity is the enemy of victory.” To the people at that conference, though, a purity test gives them people like Michele Bachmann, people who they can point to as justification for the labels like “morality,” which they wear so proudly.
In order to get off the campaign and into the open space of civil, free thinking political ideas, you have to be willing, as they say in the human potential movement, you have to be willing to do the work. That means the painful work of pulling out the needles that keep the labels attached to you.
Once you can do that, slips of paper that say “Liberal,” “Conservative,” “Racist,” “Elitist” and “Moralist,” float to the floor like fortune cookie confetti. There, among the shrinking air of wrinkled red, white and blue party balloons, they can be trampled, as you bolt for the door.
Remember tough, to leave your rose colored glasses behind. The light of open-mindedness is bright, and by leaving the filter behind, you’ll be able to see things more clearly. Also, all sorts of people will hurl their javelins at you, hoping they will stick, but if you can stay committed to critical thinking, committed to civility and reason, there’s growth available for us all, as a country. Just let go of what they tell you to hate/love/avoid/pursue, and be you. There’s happiness there, and patriotism, too, if you believe in it.