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True patriots accept political diversity

During the mid-century Red Scare, J. Edgar Hoover’s agents zeroed in countless groups that called themselves “patriots.” The FBI’s controversial director considered many of them mere fronts for activities that were anything but patriotic — at least not in support of America. Sometimes he was right, but more often he wasn’t.
Last spring, news broke that the Internal Revenue Service had paid special attention to groups that used “patriot” in their title and sought tax-exempt status to support their causes. The scope of that scandalous attention has yet to be determined; it remains a cause celebre among those who would lay it on the doorstep of the Oval Office. Democrats on Capitol Hill so far have scrambled rather successfully to curtail the damage caused by the IRS, though the violation took place on their party’s watch.
Webster defines a patriot as one who “loves and loyally or zealously supports his own country.”

Nothing in that definition includes an allegiance to an idea or cause by a single person or group of people. One person’s concept of patriotism frequently is not that of another. Opposing a health-insurance mandate or abortion or contraception or immigration or any number of other issues does not make one a patriot, any more than supporting them does.
So who has the right to call himself or herself a patriot?
Well, obviously, anyone who accepts and is willing to defend the idea that the freedom to espouse differing political policies or ideologies must be protected at all cost. If the so-called tea-party wing of the Republican Party wants to label itself patriotic, that is its prerogative. But those who insist on that designation should understand that they are no more so than those who disagree with them.

I must say here that I am rankled by Philistines who appoint themselves as more American because of their beliefs. Certainly, we all should resent the implication that we less fit Webster’s definition because we don’t agree with them. It is not unlike those who run around calling themselves “Christian” using their own interpretation as a guide to who really is or isn’t. Usually that determination is based on a political disagreement. Are you more Christian than I because you attend church more frequently? Am I less because of my politics?
We are all patriots under one flag. How do we classify those young men who fought and died or were permanently damaged by Vietnam, a war that history has shown as perhaps the nation’s greatest mistake? They were patriots. But so were those who openly opposed this tragedy, as the facts became clear and the dying continued.
All this is a response to those who insist on using their own “I am but you’re not” challenge in political confrontation.
It was obviously wrong for the IRS to single out applicants for tax exemption based on how they regard themselves. The government’s action seems based on the Hoover-like concept that their true activities were something less than patriotism. That was a major, malicious attempt at intimidation because of applicants’ political beliefs. Do I think the policy went higher than a regional office in Cincinnati? I certainly do. Someone in the current administration knew what was happening.
While this matter has lain dormant for months, it’s time to clear it up. But that it is not likely under the current political circumstances. History has shown that most presidents in these cases can legitimately claim lack of knowledge. The doctrine of plausible deniability takes over and the walls surrounding it can be impenetrable.
At the same time, it would be a good idea for those who disagree with the president and his party to stop implying that he and his followers are not patriotic because they see things differently. This ridiculous attempt at superiority is what has helped foster the dysfunction that has blighted the country.
I am a patriot and so are you. Now that that is settled, let’s sit down and argue how we make things better without impugning our loyalty to the ideals of this country.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of Scripps Howard News Service. Email: thomassondan@aol.com.

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