Honoring America

Our view : Patriotism is not a partisan issue

July 04, 2008

Americans are celebrating Independence Day this election year as the presidential candidates of the two major parties engage in a spirited debate over the direction the country should take over the next four years. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soaring gas prices and rising unemployment, falling home values and a slumping economy are only the most visible challenges facing the nation. But the patriotism of the two major-party presidential contenders, which has figured as a subliminal but increasingly disturbing undercurrent of discontent on the talk-show circuit and on the Internet, is not one of them, and it should not be.

Patriotism is the love of one's country, its people, its culture and, perhaps most important, its ideals, which represent the nation's most cherished hopes in a world that remains far from perfect. America's ideals are enshrined in the nation's great founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Together, they hold out a promise of freedom, opportunity and justice for all under the law that remains unique among the world's nations. Whatever policy differences may separate the Republican and Democratic candidates, there can be no doubt that each of them has made a solemn commitment to uphold the fundamental principles on which America's republican form of government rests.

In recent days, both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama have felt compelled to talk about the meaning of patriotism for them personally as contenders for the nation's highest office. Despite all the partisan sniping and political one-upmanship, what was remarkable about their efforts was the degree to which, in their different ways, both men managed to articulate in simple but eloquent words an idea of America in which all Americans could take pride.

"Love of country is another way of saying love of your fellow countrymen," said Mr. McCain, who went on to issue this invitation: "If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you are disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them."

For Mr. Obama, America is the idea "that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door; that we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe; that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution; and that our votes will be counted."

These are ideals that Americans commemorate today because our commitment to them transcends all our divisions of party and creed, class and race. They are ideas, nurtured in America's great melting pot, that make all of us, in all our marvelous diversity, one people and one nation.

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were only the beginning of the enormous unfinished project that is America. Our history has witnessed devastating wars, wrenching economic dislocation and violent civil unrest, and in each case we emerged from adversity triumphant. But our struggle to overcome has also been in service of a higher aspiration to fulfill the nation's democratic promise. That magnificent work-in-progress, whose ideals we celebrate today, belongs to no single political leader, party or faction but is the natural birthright that all Americans share.

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