Ronald Reagan, ever the wit, did a good job summing up the difference between Republicans and Democrats when he observed: “Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July and Democrats believe that every day is April 15.”

As a matter of history, there was a lot of truth to this statement, Conservatives, on balance, are almost certainly more patriotic than liberals.

I speak from experience. Open patriotism was so frowned upon in the left-wing household that I grew up in that my father forbade me from joining the Cub Scouts on the basis that they were too militaristic (honestly.) The Noam Chomsky/Naomi Klein conspiracy theory left are openly anti-American, as is a sizable fraction of the politically active professoriate. Deep down, much of the political left simply hates the experiment in freedom that the United States represents—they would prefer to be appointed as the country’s central planners–and they loathe American military power even more.

But, sadly, there’s a growing anti-American faction of the right disgusted with its own powerlessness, that seems just as intent on bashing just about everything about the modern United States. Many of these supposed conservatives may waive flags and talk about the Constitution but, in more cases than not, they refuse to accept their country as it is.

Let’s review what the past was really like. While the original tax protestors who dumped tea into Boston Harbor were certainly making a legitimate and valid point with some resonance today, there’s little reason to romanticize the actual society that existed in the Revolution’s aftermath. Yes, the post-revolutionary America, as Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution so convincingly demonstrates, was a real and important step forward for social organization, but it was not even close to a libertarian paradise. It tolerated slavery (the most profound assault on liberty imaginable) and treated women as distinctly second-class citizens. The romanticized-by-libertarians robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century were mostly masters of crony capitalism. And so forth.

In fact, for all of its genuine ills, the country is almost certainly better off overall than it was in the much romanticized 1950s and early 1960s. The air and water are cleaner; the law (more-or-less) protects people equally regardless of skin color; GDP per capita is much higher; many big cities are safer (yes, really); teen pregnancy is less common (check the numbers); and technology has opened a world of new opportunities for just about everyone. Heck, even manners have improved. Littering is now a major sin and public bigotry, thankfully, is no longer tolerated.

And the same goes for America’s current situation: while the United States has problems that current public policies are not making any better, it is still a great nation worthy of love. As a conservative, I disagree with almost all of President Barack Obama’s major policies and think that many will damage the economy. But I don’t see any evidence he’s less patriotic than most Americans and none at all that he somehow seeks the country’s destruction. As he has won two elections by convincing margins, furthermore, I feel obligated to respect the institution of the presidency that he holds and the choice of the American people. Electing a President who pursues bad policies does not diminish the country’s greatness.

There are great lessons from the past. The Fourth of July is a good time to remember and recount them. But pretending that the past was somehow better in all respects, when it clearly wasn’t, reflects an unwillingness to accept America as it actually is. And that’s unpatriotic.

photo by: SteveD.

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