February 19, 2008
Proud of What?
By Mary Lyon
"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." Carl Schurz (1829 - 1906)
That's the phrase we hear and see again and again. I can think of plenty of bumper stickers I've spotted on the road for years - no, decades. But we tend only to hear the front part, not the whole thing. It seems there's this yen to stress the first five words only, and conveniently drop the rest. Some info behind that quote for further context follows. You should know more about the background of this monumental statement:
AUTHOR: Carl Schurz (1829–1906)
QUOTATION: The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
ATTRIBUTION: Senator CARL SCHURZ, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872, The Congressional Globe, vol. 45, p. 1287. The Globe merely notes [Manifestations of applause in the galleries]” but according to Schurz’s biographer, “The applause in the gallery was deafening.” This is “one of Schurz’s most frequently quoted replies.”—Hans L. Trefousse, Carl Schurz: A Biography, chapter 11, p. 180 (1982).
Schurz expanded on this theme in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 1899: “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free nstitutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”—Schurz, “The Policy of Imperialism,” Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, vol. 6, pp. 119–20 (1913).
Which brings me to Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain, and my friend Julie.
Cindy McCain obviously never met my friend Julie.
Mrs. McCain initiated a cat fight with Mrs. Obama this week, (over)reacting
to Obama's statement "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." McCain scampered in with the retort "Well, I'm VERY proud of my country. I don't know about you."
Proud of what? A war we were lied into, and your spouse's longing to extend that miserable mistake for 100 years? Proud of all the people we've killed, the fortunes we've squandered, the land we've destroyed, the enemies we've made and how we've put ourselves more horrifyingly at risk as a result of that war? Proud of an economy that's rewarded greed and arrogance, punishing the little guy, redistributing wealth upwards from coast-to-coast and sending millions of jobs off our shores altogether? Proud of leadership that rules by intimidation, deceit, and fear-mongering? Proud of a country whose Supreme Court actually dared to stop the counting of the American vote - so that a scheming, well-connected loser could wind up winning? Proud of a government that's taught this country you can lie, cheat, steal, cut corners, and repeatedly violate the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, and nothing punitive will happen to you? Proud of an America now known as a torturer? Proud of a country in which a powerful, monopolistic media hate machine is allowed to run amok, peddling fraud and distortion, fostering mean-spiritedness, racism, sexism, ignorance, and a win-at-all-costs/"screw-you" mentality? Proud of a nation so divided that it's now eating itself alive? Proud of a nation now obsessed by holy wars, intolerance, and bedroom busybodies? Proud of an America whose unchecked, unrestrained government runs up oceans of debt in reckless, misbegotten spending priorities? Proud of a country whose preemptive war nickels-and-dimes its soldiers and their loved ones so well-heeled, pampered chickenhawks back home can have more? Proud of the nauseating new template that's been set nearly in stone by the behavior of this administration - of absolutely no accountability? Proud of a government that cares nothing about tapping your phone, reading your emails, and snooping into your online activities - without having to offer any explanations? Proud of a nation that prizes the achievements of overinflated sports divas, trainwreck twinkies, and media meanies over teachers, scientists, and courageous dissenters? Proud of an America in which the least of our brethren are shoved to the back of the line - and locked in there?
I'm sorry, Cindy. I don't see a whole lot to be proud of, and that's a partial list, at best.
And coincidentally, neither does my friend Julie. I've known this woman for decades - since we were in elementary school. As of this writing, it's been a day since she called me and we had what I think was our first-ever purely political conversation. Amazingly enough, in all this time, through all the ups and downs of a cherished and long-running friendship, politics just never came up before. Now, however, it's unavoidable. Julie is clearly distressed. Three words blurt out of her mouth, to start: "I'm so ashamed!" She then proceeds to confess that she's a lifelong Republican, and voted for George W. Bush twice. And then, for a second time, she declares - "I'm so ashamed!"
Ashamed of What? Well, of all those things in the list about three paragraphs up, according to my friend. Julie proceeded in our conversation to lament how she trusted George and was so gravely disappointed in the fruits of that trust. She'd believed in the Republican Way, indeed she'd been brought up believing in it, and it let her down bigtime. It disspirited her so resoundingly that, for the first time in her life, she was seriously considering leaving her party and voting with the Democrats. She found Barack Obama particularly encouraging - finally a cooling drink of fresh water after a long and bitter political drought. My friend has also thus come to the realization that she CAN do something about that, when the country she loves has gone so desperately insane.
I know how Julie feels. I couldn't agree more. I've been deeply ashamed of my country's pursuit of the crooked path extolled by the GOP. My own personal distress arises from the decline of sensible and adult governance, truly objective and honest bipartisanship, and an increase in just flat-out money-grubbing, while selling fairy stories about regulations = bad, unfettered corporatism = good/social responsibility = bad, greed = good. It's gone on since the dawn of the Reagan era, and reached a culmination after seven-and-some years of George W. Bush. It's not Lady Liberty we revere any longer. It's Machiavelli. It's narrow-mindedness, not expansiveness. Fear rather than courage. Money trumping peace. The America I see now is one I no longer recognize. Evidently, the rest of the world concurs. This election finally offers us a chance to pull ourselves out of The Mess That George Built, and it can't come soon enough for me. Like my friend Julie, I too love my country enough to try to correct her when she's wrong - particularly when she's THIS wrong.
Perhaps from where Cindy McCain stands, things look just ducky. Change? WHAT change? Things are great, aren't they? Nothing we have to repair, nor anything over which we need to repent. Stay the course! More war! More tax cuts for the rich! More Bushonomics! More cronyism and even less accountability! More societal crippling! Let's have at least four more years of everything that has so dismally failed up til now, shall we? Mrs. McCain evidently sees no reason to try to set her distraught country back on a sensible, reasonable, and thoughtful road, or to steer her troubled ship of state away from the icebergs. Icebergs? What icebergs? Her country, right ONLY. There IS no wrong. Perhaps Michelle Obama feels a surge of pride only now because of what her husband's candidacy promises if he's the lucky Democratic winner - a drastic change in the rotten, disgraceful, veritably Un-American affliction that's sickened our 300-million member American family. He's given her hope, also. Apparently, Michelle Obama sees the runaway train about to be slowed down, at long last, and directed safely and surely away from the road to utter calamity.
My friend Julie agrees with Michelle. So do I. We see our country in trouble and are more eager than ever to rescue it - especially since we now see there's actually a fighting chance that we can. "...If wrong, to be set right." Cindy, go ahead and be proud of the most disastrous reversal of fortune in our nation's history. We, in turn, will be VERY proud when we've brought that shameful condition to an end.