The Corner

The Patriotic Question

Those of us who aren’t native born tread very carefully around the issue of American patriotism, always aware that we don’t completely get it. When Bertrand Russell first visited the U.S.A. 100-odd years ago he was much amused at the way Americans would ask him: “How do you like our country?” Said he: “It was as if a man were to say ‘How do you like my wife?’” Still, for what it’s worth, some cautious thoughts:

Patriotism everywhere is opposed by globalization. The benefits of globalization are obvious and attractive, if unevenly distributed. A 55-year-old factory worker (when did we stop saying “factory hand“?) whose job has gone abroad is entitled to feel that globalization’s a big negative for him; but the globalists argue, pretty plausibly it seems to me, that net-net the living standards of his countrymen, and likely even of his kids, will benefit from the process. Along with prosperity seems to come increased security, though this hasn’t really been tested, and the mini-globalization pre-1914 is a contra-indicator.

And yet a lot of people everywhere have the inchoate feeling that they don’t want too much of it. That’s what’s behind the recent Irish vote againt the EU constitution, and much of the sentiment everywhere against current high levels of immigration. We’ll be seeing more of it next month at the Peking Olympics, when man-on-the-street interviews will come up with any number of prickly Chinese citizens saying yes, it’s wonderful that we can all get together in sporting harmony, and yes, let’s increase trade and cultural contact for our mutual advantage, but WE CHINESE HAVE OUR OWN WAY OF DOING THINGS AND FOREIGNERS HAVE NO RIGHT TO INTERFERE.

Politicians have to try to find the point of balance. I don’t think either Obama or McCain is even close. Obama is a yuppie internationalist whose preferred choice of companionship, at least until about a year ago, was people who don’t much like the U.S.A. McCain served his country very admirably in his youth, but seems to have settled firmly into an extreme open-borders philosophy, which is a globalization too far for most Americans. Strength of character is of course admirable, but strength of character in an unpopular cause won’t get you any votes. It’s interesting and instructive to know what a candidate has done in the past; but it’s natural to be much more concerned about what he might do in the future.

My definition of a patriotic politician would be one who shows signs of having constantly asked himself:  What is best for the citizens of this country? Driving down the cost of low-skill labor by flooding the labor market with low-skill foreigners is so obviously bad for low-skill Americans, I’m surprised we even debate the issue. Yet all John McCain has to tell us is that illegal immigrants are “God’s children.” What on earth does that mean? Does being one of God’s children give you a right to U.S. residence? Aren’t, say, the 150 million people of Bangladesh also God’s children? Can they come live here too, then? If ICE firmly but politely and humanely deports an illegal immigrant back to his home country, will he cease to be one of God’s children as he crosses the border? This isn’t mere globalization, it’s gibberish globalization. How about us U.S. citizens? Aren’t we God’s children too? What’s best for us?

As for Obama, when did he start asking himself  “What is best for the citizens of this country?” Since I have not yet read his autobiography, I’m in the dark here. Could someone who has read it please give me a few page references to statements by Obama indicating that he was pondering this question — this one essentially and indisputably patriotic question, the one question that defines patriotism in a politician?

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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