Uncomfortable in Madison
by Michael Spencer
I am not a conspicuous flag waver. I do not have a flag on my car. My wife finally put a tiny flag on the front porch, but I would probably have waited till July to put a flag up on my own. I don’t dress in red, white and blue every day. I don’t have a flag sewn on to my shirts. I don’t frequent daily demonstrations of patriotism. While I recently purchased a patriotic cap and somewhat patriotic t-shirt, I will wear them only occasionally, not every day.
I will even go a bit further. I hope we don’t become such a nation of fanatical flag-wavers where people who don’t have a flag on the car are turned over to the police as possible terrorists. The school where I work has a considerable number of International students on campus, and I have tried to be sensitive about the amount of flag waving we do. I’ve supported and initiated some patriotic events, but not every day, all the time. When a speaker recently said all other countries were bad and ours is good, I apologized the next day. Our country is great, certainly the best at this point, but many other countries are good, too.
My response to the sudden outburst of flag-enthusiasm in America is two-fold. First, I am glad to see that patriotism is out in the open, particularly at a time when our troops are across the world doing their job. I’m glad we all said the pledge last Friday, and I am glad children are getting to see our nation show its pride in what freedom means and costs.
At the same time, I realize that patriotism is devotion to principle, not symbol. I come from Appalachian mountain people who are not well known for lots of emotional demonstration (except for high school sports) and I prefer to see a person walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Or wear the bumper sticker. As a Christian, my ultimate loyalties are not with America, but I am glad to live here, and the values of our country are honorable and good, worthy of my devotion, appreciation and sacrifice.
Further, my libertarian instincts tell me that mass conformity isn’t what America is all about. I dislike dress codes and national standards. I believe in individuality and freedom from coercion and freedom of conscience. If someone doesn’t want to wear the flag all the time, that doesn’t disqualify them as a patriot or as a good person. I think this country can accommodate people who think we’ve done some terrible things and make lots of mistakes. I wouldn’t execute a flag–burner.
So have I earned my right to call the Madison, Wisconsin Board of Education’s decision to ban the pledge of allegiance to the flag a decision so bad that the the board should, at the very least, resign? Can I say that these pathetically mistaken egghead liberals deserve every reviling, nut case e-mail they will receive? Can I suggest that anyone in charge of a public school system who is this insensitive to the fundamentals of civic life and duty ought to consider a new career, perhaps something on one of the outer planets?
The recent attacks on America produced a momentary euphoria of unity that seems to transfigure all political division. It could not, and should not, last. While the gang at MTV may have a flag in the corner of the screen, they will be back playing Rage Against the Machine in no time. And the liberals who truly dislike American values and prefer some sort of world community multicultural nonsense can’t resist a target as juicy as the pledge to the flag.
We can all write this little drama in advance. Some parent must complain that their child is “uncomfortable” with a forced pledge of allegiance to the flag. A threat from the ACLU is in the mail. (If we have any ordinance left over after Afghanistan, the ACLU really is asking for it.) The board hears from the parents, the child, the lawyers and gives twenty minutes to the rest of the human race. Each one gives a speech about this difficult decision. Someone says that this is what makes America great. And they vote, overwhelmingly, to ban the pledge.
(Just to keep score, they will eventually reverse the decision when it becomes clear that they will no longer be able to show their faces in public without the very real possibility of physical harm from their fellow citizens.)
The tenet of liberalism that says civic life must rise no higher than the comfort level of its least patriotic citizen is pure idiocy. America is about the right to dissent, but it is dissent, not a takeover of the mainstream. We allow the dissenter to dissent in peace, and the rest of us pledge to the flag. Banning the pledge is the sort of cultural self-decapitation liberals love to perform for their imagined audiences. When they sober up, they will realize they’ve wrecked the car and ruined the carpet, damage that patriotic, God-fearing, conservative Americans will clean up. Again.
Teaching civic life and duty is fundamental to education. One of the absolutely worst tendencies tolerated by the public who send their kids to public school is the heinous indoctrination of children in the maniacal stupidities of multi-culturalism. That our children would know more about Kwanzaa than the Constitution is a crime worthy of incarceration. That any child would go through our system and not be taught the fundamental insights of the continuing American revolution is dereliction of duty, incompetence and abuse. Please define “traitor” for me, my egghead school board friend, and tell me you aren’t very close.
The pledge to the flag is a visible participation in the freedom of our nation. It is a recognition of the sacrifices that made America possible. It is a statement of American ideals. In the confession that we are one nation under God, indivisible, we eschew any idea that being hyphenated Americans supercedes our common citizenship. Our pledge to continue an experiment that provides liberty and justice for all is the basis for everything from free enterprise to civil rights and criminal justice. Just exactly what in the pledge makes these people uncomfortable? Is anyone uncomfortable with community leaders who would deny our children the right to commit themselves to the highest virtues and values?
I was born in Wisconsin, but my parents quickly moved to Kentucky, where I have spent all but three of my forty-five years. In the national mind, Wisconsin is a progressive state, with an enviable public education system. In the same public mind, Kentucky is a barefoot backwater that stands proudly above Mississippi and Arkansas in sophistication. Might I suggest that in matters of civic life, the progressives in Madison have made me proud my parents migrated to the Bluegrass. I assure you, that if a Board of Education in our fair Commonwealth banned the pledge of Allegiance, they would be wise to bring the dog in the house.
I would like to issue an invitation to any of the children in the Madison school district to visit our fair state, where we actually have people trying to get the Ten Commandments in the classroom. (Don’t worry, I don’t support it.) As far as I know, we are proudly pledging to the flag, and if it makes anyone uncomfortable, there’s plenty of immigration opportunities in Afghanistan.