Rooting for Your Country to Fail is Unpatriotic

America has decided to implement ObamaCare. Are you with your country or against it?

In America, we argue about everything. Just because the Leader proposes something, we don’t all have to get in line behind it.

We argue about whether to go to war in places like Syria, Libya, or Iraq. We argue about taxes. We argue about how much money our government should spend and what it should be spent on. We argue about which drugs and medical procedures should be legal.

We argue; it’s what we do. If you didn’t argue for your beliefs, if you just knuckled under as soon as the Powers That Be made their will known, you wouldn’t be a real American.

But we also come to decisions. We have a Congress that is empowered to pass laws. We have a president who is obliged to either veto those laws or enforce them. We have courts you can appeal to if you think those laws exceed the powers the Constitution delegates to the federal government.

In short, there are lots and lots of ways you can register your objection to a proposed public policy. Our Constitution creates many pressure points where the flow of an idea into law can be blocked.

But we do eventually make decisions.

Even after a decision is made, you can still argue that it was wrong. You can argue that we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. You can argue that we shouldn’t have bailed out General Motors or Bank of America. You can argue that the CIA shouldn’t be launching drone attacks into countries we aren’t at war with or that the NSA shouldn’t be tracking your cell phone.

That’s not just a technicality of freedom of speech. You can make those arguments as a patriotic American, because the country has a process for reversing course. If you can convince enough people agree with you, maybe the power of public opinion will change the minds of our office-holders. And if not, elections can turn those offices over to new office-holders who can make new policies and pass new laws.

That’s not working against America, it’s part of how America works.

But there’s a line between legitimate partisanship and lack of patriotism, and this is where it runs: After a decision is made, after it is upheld as constitutional, after America has decided to do something, you don’t root for your country to fail — and you certainly don’t take action to make your country fail.

That’s unpatriotic.

Democrats respected that line when a Republican administration did something we thought was wrong: invading Iraq. We never stopped arguing against it. We never stopped trying to elect people who would get us out Iraq. And eventually we succeeded. The fighting in Iraq continues, but American troops are out of it.

You know what we didn’t do? We didn’t try to sabotage the war effort. Democratic leaders weren’t out there publicly rooting for failure. We didn’t aid the Iraqi resistance or gloat over defeats. And we certainly didn’t cheer when American troops came home in body bags. If a stray voice on a blog or in a public forum started rooting for defeat or gloating over American corpses, we jumped all over him. No external force had to police us on that; we policed ourselves.

We were Americans. We opposed what our government was doing in Iraq, but we stayed patriotic.

But on ObamaCare, Republicans have crossed that line between patriotic and unpatriotic. Let’s review a few of the ways.

McConnell and the NFL. In June, Republican Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn sent a letter to the National Football League, warning it not to cooperate in efforts to publicize the law and tell the public how to get the benefits it offers. (They were successful; the NFL did not cooperate.)

This is unprecedented. Private organizations, including sports leagues, frequently take part in public information programs. When Massachusetts passed RomneyCare, the Boston Red Sox helped publicize it. Private companies like CVS, Shaw’s supermarkets, and H&R Block pitched in. This wasn’t controversial, because it wasn’t taking a position on a proposal, it was educating the public about the law.

The Bush administration organized a similar public-information campaign to introduce the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Democrats had opposed the bill in Congress (because it was written to benefit drug companies more than seniors), and we objected to the tactics used to pass the bill. But Democrats did not interfere with educating the public about how to get the new law’s benefits.

McConnell’s logic is revealing. The NFL should refuse to participate because ObamaCare “is one of the most divisive and polarizing political issues of the day.” Actually, no, it had been a political issue, but it was now a law. McConnell admitted as much, but discounted that fact because “this law was enacted … on a strictly partisan basis”. In other words, the constitutional process is insufficient as long as Republicans disapprove.

The Koch Brothers’ creepy Uncle Sam. The Koch brothers have funneled millions of dollars into ads that aim to sabotage ObamaCare by getting young people not to sign up. Not only are these ads misleading — amounting to an anti-public-education campaign against the law — they also turn a symbol of America, Uncle Sam, into something sinister and threatening.

This is well within the Kochs’ legal freedom of speech — just as it would have been within the freedom of speech of anti–Iraq-War billionaires to run creepy and misleading ads telling young Americans not to sign up for the military. (No such ads ran.) But it is similarly unpatriotic.

The fake Cover California web site. Republicans around the country crowed over the problems of the web site. Crowing over your country’s failures is unseemly enough, but California Republicans took it one step further: They set up a fake web site to actively confuse Californians looking for health insurance.

California is one of the states that set up its own ObamaCare exchange with its own web site, Covered California. The state web site was working much better than the national one, so naturally something had to be done to monkey-wrench it. Republicans put up their own fake site, Covering Health Care California, where you can’t sign up for health insurance, but you can access anti-ObamaCare propaganda and misinformation. Republican state representatives then distributed a mailer publicizing the bogus web site.

This is not normal. You want to argue that ObamaCare is a mistake and should be repealed? Fine. You want to run on a repeal platform? Fine.

But America has made a decision to do something about its 50 million uninsured. That decision, made through our constitutional process, is to implement ObamaCare. When you take action to screw that implementation up, you are working against your country.

It’s that simple.

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  • @tahiya (@tahiya)  On December 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Ummm… no. You want to say these people are assholes? You want to say that they are using their money to subvert the public will? Fine. But the charge of unpatriotic has ALWAYS been a weak person’s religious accusation. You make the assertion that these people shouldn’t be behaving this way in our republic sound shrill and ridiculous. Patriotism is not a virtue. It’s a manipulation tool. Don’t make your case this way. It weakens your position and makes you sound thoughtless and emotionally overwhelmed.

    • weeklysift  On December 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      I think there is an objective ethic that Democrats have kept and Republicans are violating. It’s not just being an asshole.

  • BDR  On December 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    While I typically agree with your analyses, the analogy you draw here is quite flawed.

    When you talk about patriotism you’re speaking about the devotion of a group of people to each other and to a common social identity. In such a dynamic, rooting for those outside the group (say, those fighting against US troops) is a definite no-no.

    But fights within the group (say, about healthcare) are ‘OK’–that is, they don’t bear on one’s devotion to the group. And if you speak to genuine opponents of Obamacare, you’ll find they really believe they’re fighting for the best interests of the country. (Of course, it’s another question whether the same can be said of the leaders and moneymen.)

    You’ve written eloquently in the past about our need to be more empathetic towards our political opponents. I don’t think that questioning their patriotism is a good way to do that.

    As a side note, whenever I run across the word ‘patriotism’, I mentally substitute ‘nationalism’. Amazing how it changes the tone.

    • weeklysift  On December 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Let me make a sports analogy. If I’m competing with another player to be the quarterback of my team, that’s part of how the team is supposed to work; we compete and the best player plays. But when I start rooting for my rival to fail on the field and for my team to lose until they give the job back to me, I’m violating the ethic of the team. It doesn’t matter that I honestly think I’m the better quarterback and that the team would do better in the long run if I played instead of my rival. The bottom line is that I’m rooting against my team.

      • BDR  On December 9, 2013 at 11:40 pm

        Thanks for the reply.

        I’m still doubtful this analogy applies. I don’t think Republicans conceive of healthcare as a competition with other nations (i.e. those outside the group). I don’t even consider this to be the case. While a better healthcare system will of course make us more competitive, that isn’t the point of reforming the system–it’s to help fellow Americans live better lives. As such, I just don’t get questioning Republicans’ commitment to the team.

        On the other hand, I do think you’re on to something. There is another, more insidious way to lack commitment to a team. It happens when a subgroup thinks certain teammates should be cut from the squad.

        Occasionally I stop by a very far-right wing message board. Mostly Tea Partiers, but not conspiracy nuts. I rarely post because it’s pointless; instead, I just like to ‘take the temperature’ of their side and get a feel for how they’re thinking.

        They’ve fallen hook, line, and sinker for the fiction that there are ‘makers’ and ‘takers’, and the ‘takers’ are probably now a majority who will vote themselves more freebies until the system collapses. While most are level-headed enough not to bash democracy outright, there’s considerable support for restricting voting rights (although most don’t seem to think this will help since we’ve passed the tipping point on the way to apocalypse).

        Basically, the ‘takers’ need to be cut from the squad.

        Now, saying these people aren’t patriotic is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole–yes, the basic concept of moving the peg through the hole is correct, but it just doesn’t fit. Regardless of what happens, they’ll still cheer for the red, white, and blue. But cutting ‘weaker’ teammates will objectively make the team stronger. Making it more difficult for ‘takers’ to vote is patriotic because us ‘makers’ know what’s best for everyone and the country.

        It’s not a problem with their patriotism, per se. It’s a problem with their concept of the team. They want a smaller team, and think that they should be on that smaller team. (No wonder racists are drawn to the movement, where they can easily use class as a proxy for race.) They lack commitment to their teammates.

        You can claim this equates to unpatriotic sentiment, but that is based on your own inclusive ideal of patriotism and carries little objective weight. (When has the right ever pushed for inclusivity?)

        Instead of using this line of attack, much better to identify the real problems. First and foremost, the right is anti-democratic. And second, their visions of impending Armageddon mean they will not compromise an inch. The cracks are forming, the structure will fall, and compromise will only delay the inevitable. Unless, of course, the country hands the right all the reigns of power because only they know how to fix this. Funny how the logic dovetails.

      • weeklysift  On December 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        I don’t see patriotism as centering on opposition to others, but on faithfulness to the team. As a country, we have taken on the project of trying to do something about the uninsured. I can sympathize with someone who doesn’t share that goal, or who thinks the way we’re going about it is foolish. But trying to make that project fail crosses a line.

  • Barb Mantegani  On December 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Bravo. You give me faith that I don’t have to move to Canada to stay in a country with sane people.

    Sent from my iPhone


  • sl  On December 12, 2013 at 7:39 am

    In the world of business, pretending to be someone that you aren’t, with the express purpose of duping people is fraud. Depending on exactly what happened in California, prosecution for fraud might be viable.


  • By Basic Rights | The Weekly Sift on December 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    […] week’s featured posts: “Rooting for Your Country to Fail is Unpatriotic” and “The Procrustean Sainthood of Nelson […]

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