The America We Love
June 30, 2008 in Independence, Missouri
On a spring morning in April of 1775, a simple band of colonists – farmers and merchants, blacksmiths and printers, men and boys – left their homes and families in Lexington and Concord to take up arms against the tyranny of an Empire.
America's First Patriots
The odds against them were long and the risks enormous – for even if they survived the battle, any ultimate failure would bring charges of treason, and death by hanging. And yet they took that chance.
They did so not on behalf of a particular tribe or lineage, but on behalf of a larger idea. The idea of liberty. The idea of God-given, inalienable rights.
And with the first shot of that fateful day – a shot heard round the world – the American Revolution, and America's experiment with democracy, began. Those men of Lexington and Concord were among our first patriots.
The Meaning of Patriotism
And at the beginning of a week when we celebrate the birth of our nation, I think it is fitting to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of patriotism – theirs, and ours.
We do so in part because we are in the midst of war – more than one and a half million of our finest young men and women have now fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; over 60,000 have been wounded, and over 4,600 have been laid to rest. The costs of war have been great, and the debate surrounding our mission in Iraq has been fierce.
It is natural, in light of such sacrifice by so many, to think more deeply about the commitments that bind us to our nation, and to each other. We reflect on these questions as well because we are in the midst of a presidential election, perhaps the most consequential in generations; a contest that will determine the course of this nation for years, perhaps decades, to come.
The Debate about American Values
Not only is it a debate about big issues – health care, jobs, energy, education, and retirement security – but it is also a debate about values:
- How do we keep ourselves safe and secure while preserving our liberties?
- How do we restore trust in a government that seems increasingly removed from its people and dominated by special interests?
- How do we ensure that in an increasingly global economy, the winners maintain allegiance to the less fortunate?
- And how do we resolve our differences at a time of increasing diversity?
Finally, it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the question of who is – or is not – a patriot all too often poisons our political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us together.
Challenging the Patriotism of Others
I have come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for President.
And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged – at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.