Column: Dissent is not by definition patriotic

Debates over policy and politics are driven and sustained by clich?s. Though I have no way to quantify this, I’ll bet the sum total of most Americans’ political knowledge is embodied by clich?s.

“Keep your laws off my body.” “Leave no child behind.” “Building a bridge to the 21st Century.” “No taxation without representation.”

Of course, clich?s, which frequently start out as campaign slogans, serve a constructive purpose. They crystallize campaign themes into identifiable chunks. They create a banner to rally around when the issue in question might be too viscous and impenetrable.

Perhaps the phrase most guilty of meeting this definition is this year’s simultaneously ubiquitous and vacuous anti-war statement of choice – “Dissent is patriotic,” or “DIP.”

I rejected “No Blood for Oil” and “Bush, Blair, Sharon = Nazis.” Most serious people, as well as a surprising plurality of Democrats, know these arguments are bunk.

Not that DIP is an anti-war argument, per se. Rather, it’s a verbal club wielded by those simultaneously opposed to the war and made uncomfortable by their opposition to the war.

Their discomfort stems from their instinctive shrinking back from America’s assertion of power in a portion of the world where the world demands an assertion of U.S. power, though not enough ever to be suitable to the task. Usually this takes the form of press conferences, press statements, press photos, press events and other events tailor-made for Time Life photographers, not problem solving.

This discomfort equally stems from the fact that the war was conceived, argued and successfully concluded by a president dissenters currently view as the most dangerous man on the planet while having the brain of a slug. The war was popular with the American people, and once the Baathists and their terrorist allies are all lined up according to the size of their American-administered perforations, the people’s anxiety will ease.

DIP proponents frequently use DIP when confronted with criticism of their criticism. They hope to wrap themselves in our secular holy text, the Constitution, and color the attacks upon them as an attack upon Mr. Madison’s masterpiece.

Such a tactic exposes a lack of confidence in their position and an extreme personal insecurity. More relevant, however, is that DIP is illogical and inaccurate.

Dissent against whom? The president? Congress? The Pentagon? The American people? All the groups in favor of the war? What about those who opposed the war on grounds that the president wasn’t going far enough? Would their dissent be characterized as patriotic? No, of course not.

Is the statement applicable to non-war topics? What about the president’s tax cuts? Or his education initiative? What would dissent look like there, offering a compromise proposal? What about Congress? What if President Bush vetoed Sen. John McCain’s campaign finance bill? Would that count as DIP?

DIP is only used in the very narrow context of left-wing, anti-war statements. That narrowness only invalidates the entire expression because the concept of dissent can be applied to any proposal supported by a majority of policymakers. I oppose naming the federal courthouse in my town after the former mayor. I am engaging in DIP.

Well, not really.

True patriotism is not an expression, whether spoken in the well of the United States Senate or shouted on 23rd Street with 10,000 of your closest friends. People who actively characterize their statements as patriotic are no more patriotic than a self-proclaimed modest man is modest.

The founding fathers were patriots not because they waxed eloquent about the virtues of a republic. They were patriots because actively fighting for a reupblic meant the real threat of death at British hands.

True patriotism involves meaningful sacrifice. True patriots risk all they are to ensure our chance to be all we can be. Dissent is merely the expression of an alternative policy choice in opposition to whatever currently carries the institutional momentum, devoid of any morality DIP assumes.

Pro-war or anti-war – neither is more inherently moral than the other; they are simply two equally valid policy positions on the toughest choice a democracy ever had to make.

The writer is a first-year graduate student in the School of Political Management.

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