In our country, there's a war that has been raging for centuries.
The stakes are high, the factions too numerous to count and the skirmishes frequent, but there are no visible casualties -- at least not recently. There likely will never be a final victor, yet the battle rages on to stake a claim on what it means to be "American."
Over the past decade, I've grown used to the Rush Limbaughs, the Sean Hannitys and the Bill O'Reillys of the world. I have no time personally for these snake oil salesmen of freedom, who pay lip service to the "Ideals Our Country was Founded On" while using their views on what constitutes "American" as a cudgel to bludgeon the opposition into submission. I believe these men and women pose a danger to those very ideals through the damage their single-minded simplicity has done to what passes for a modern discourse in this country, but that damage is not irreparable, and I think their relevence is beginning to fade.
But more dangerous to those ideals than the talking heads are the American leaders who not only stake a claim on what it means to be "American," but seek to persecute those who don't follow in their views. Here in Wisconsin, our collective memory tends to glaze over half a decade's history when Senator Joseph McCarthy is mentioned. Let's face it: his reign of terror is about as much a point of pride as Hitler's rise to power is to Germany.
Well, there must be something in the Great Lakes water supply, because once again a Midwestern member of Congress wants to investigate those who aren't "American" enough for her tastes.
In an interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann told Matthews the media ought to investigate members of Congress and out those with "Anti-American views." She repeatedly conflated being un-American with leftism and liberalism, inferring that Presidential candidate Barack Obama and other leaders in Congress subscribed to those "Anti-American views."
Anti-American? What the hell is that? Do they hate apple pie? Do they watch soccer instead of baseball? Or maybe they're anti-American like those pesky members of the media who eventually started asking questions after the nation went to war in Iraq.
Bachmann's ridiculous assertions -- firstly, that any one person is even qualified to define what it means to be American, and secondly, that holding a certain line of political views can make anyone un-American when the very principles our country was founded on necessitate a broad, free marketplace of diverse ideas -- are unfortunately not as extremist as they ought to be. Indeed, one of the candidates for the second highest office in the country has been parroting the same load of rubbish at rallies around the country.
Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who ought never be allowed to run for any office more crucial than dog catcher, told a crowd, "Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists..."
So there you have the first two parts of what it means to be Anti-American. If you look at your country and see anything that's less than perfect, or if you've ever carried on a civilized conversation with someone that could be characterized as a left-wing extremist, you're Anti-American.
Following Palin and Bachmann's logic, the very framers of our constitution were Anti-American, in that they sought "to form a more perfect Union." "More perfect" denotes less than perfect, and no real American would ever go so far as to suggest America comes up anywhere short of infallible. And the framers certainly kept the company of some lefty radicals.
Maybe that explains the disdain Americans like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have had for our constitution in recent years. But by these standards, I'm anti-American as well, and that doesn't sit well with me.
You see, I love my country too much to let cretins like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh steal the notion of "love of country" out from under me. I'd wager they couldn't figure out how to properly fold the American flag between the three of them.
I have a number of ideas I think could help America become a better country. Yes, this means I think it has shortcomings. The beauty of America comes in surmounting those obstacles as we have in the past, with hard work and cooperation. Turning a blind eye to problems by being "wild about America," as Bachmann put it, does nothing to improve our condition.
Sometimes it takes radical thinking to solve problems, and sometimes it doesn't. I keep friends who could constitute radicals on either side of the political spectrum, and I feel I am a stronger American for it. Anyone who would spurn an idea or individual offhand is unfit to lead, and that makes the whole debate about the William Ayerses, the Reverend Wrights, completely irrelevent.
I don't know what constitutes being "American," but I know it requires a good deal more open-mindedness than Michele Bachmann exhibited when she told Chris Matthews, "On college campuses...you find people who hate America, and unfortunately these people have positions teaching in higher learning, but you'll find them in all walks of life."
The only people who have anything to fear in an open marketplace of ideas are those whose beliefs run skin deep. And nobody who seeks to better our country as they see it is Anti-American.