Paul Waldman is a senior fellow with Media Matters for America and a senior contributor to The Gadflyer.
The anti-Americans in our midst are out in force again, saying everything that goes wrong is America’s fault. They just won’t stop running down this country, their hatred never far from the surface.
I’m speaking, of course, about conservatives.
A certain brand of conservative, anyway. Seeing the misery caused by Hurricane Katrina, some on the right knew what was going on: God hates America. Or at the very least, he’s really, really angry with us. And you don’t have to go to the maniacal Rev. Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags” fame, whose latest project is www.godhatesamerica.com, to find this kind of rhetoric. It comes from people with strong ties to the Republican party.
Pat Robertson noted that “We have killed over 40 million unborn babies in America,” consulted the book of Leviticus (or so he said), then asked, “But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way?” Speaking of connections, some of that odd yet increasingly prominent species, the American Christian Likudniks (Netanyahu wing), thought Katrina was payback to America for allowing Israel to pull out from Gaza.
Hal Lindsay of the Trinity Broadcasting Network knew what it meant when the levees broke: final judgment for America. “It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been expecting for decades have finally arrived,” he said. “And even worse, it appears that the judgment of America has begun. I warn continually that the last days lineup of world powers does not include anything resembling the United States of America.” (Lindsay has been predicting the arrival of the Apocalypse within a matter of days for at least 35 years, so don’t get too nervous). Noted Republican ex-con Charles Colson suggested on his radio show that God allowed Katrina “to get our attention.”
Of course, this is nothing new. For years, conservative Christians have been telling us that America is a veritable modern-day Sodom whose desperate moral depravity all but demands another Great Flood to wash the earth of our vile sins. We all remember how Robertson and Jerry Falwell noted with approval that the 9/11 attacks obviously meant God was punishing us for the prevalence of abortion and homosexuality in our land. And it isn’t just natural disasters—elections that don’t turn out the way they like can be signs that we have given God the finger, with the inevitable consequences soon to follow (the Christian Coalition called the election of Bill Clinton “a repudiation of our forefathers’ covenant with God”).
The idea that Bill Clinton was not a legitimate president—former House Majority Leader Dick Armey used to refer to him in conversation with Democrats as your president—was necessary for conservatives to attack him while still feeling patriotic. Respect for authority is a key underpinning of conservative ideology, which is one reason they are so eager to call anyone who criticizes the president an America-hater. L’etat, c’est Bush—as our national father, his authority can not be questioned.
So the America-hatred is all supposed to come from the left. Google “liberals hate America” and you’ll get over 31,000 hits (about 43 times as many as for “conservatives hate America”). How many times has a conservative charged that liberals are giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy if they criticize the wise perfection of the Bush administration? Oliver North said about John Kerry’s criticism of the Iraq war, “It's not anti-war; it's anti-American.” The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto said United States senators who criticize President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq are engaging in “anti-American propaganda.” Rush Limbaugh said of Democrats, “They hate this country.”
In fact, people like Robertson, Falwell and Colson are much closer to being “anti-American” than any liberal who rails against the Bush administration and its actions. After all, Bush’s detractors criticize the American government, not the nation itself. There are few more American acts than criticizing your government; after all, the Declaration of Independence itself is mostly just government-bashing. And if the ultimate source of our common identity is the Constitution, it isn’t hard to see which ideological group has more reverence for American values.
Yet you never hear anyone ask, why do conservative Christians hate America?
The conservative America-haters, while they might take issue now and again with what the government does (when Democrats are in charge), direct most of their contempt at American society—in other words, all of us. Our values are debased, our behavior is sinful, and God himself has an itchy finger on the lightning-bolt trigger and America is in his sights. Just who hates America—the people who see terrorist attacks and natural disasters made worse by official bumbling and demand that our government keep us secure, or the people who see those things, nod their heads, and say, “Yep, just what we deserve.”
Why don’t liberals call these America-haters what they are? Their problem is that at heart, liberals don’t believe it’s necessarily unpatriotic to criticize your country. And they’re so used to having to defend against the anti-American charge that they’ve come to see it not just as unfair to themselves, but inappropriate at any time.
So perhaps they should get over their qualms and start calling people who seem to hate America for what they are. And while they’re at it, they could even toss off a few such lobs at the Republicans. Why hasn’t the administration given soldiers serving in Iraq the armor they need? Because they obviously hate our troops. Why did they turn FEMA into a dumping ground for incompetent political hacks? Because they don’t care about America’s security. Four years after 9/11, George W. Bush seems rather uninterested in catching Osama bin Laden. Is he in league with Al Qaeda?
Unfair? Sure. But if Democrats start saying that sort of thing, they might be able to force Republicans to negotiate a mutual disarmament on charges of insufficient patriotism. At the very least, they could start changing the definition of what it means to be “anti-American.”