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Polling Patriotism « The Washington Independent

DENVER — The Democrats are sparing no expense to tout their patriotism in Denver this week. Under a headline about “patriotism” and “poignancy” at the convention, an AFP wire story sets the scene:

[Michelle Obama] pledged allegiance to the “blessing” of the American dream, as the historic Democratic convention opened in a pageant of political symbolism… Michelle Obama, *who some conservatives claim lacks the values of heartland America, portrayed her husband as a crusader for justice… (emphasis added)

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Picture-5-1_5046.png

**Photo by: Daquella Manera, Flickr

So does attacking Obama and his wife on patriotism and American values actually work?

It turns out many people are weary of such politicized “patriotism.” A recent poll finds the vast majority of Americans say politicians “invoke patriotism in a cheap and empty way.” They’re not thinking of Sen. John Mccain, though, who relentlessly presents himself as more patriotic than his Democratic opponent. (McCain’s campaign even accuses Sen. Barack Obama of not putting his country “first,” as if his presidential campaign is designed to serve some sort of undefined, non-American agenda.) Yet some of the same voters who don’t like empty invocations of patriotism still rate McCain as “patriotic,” while denying that honor to Obama. The survey, conducted by former Bill Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, found:

Seventy-six percent of respondents believe that political leaders “invoke patriotism in a cheap and empty way.”

The single most negative thing Americans feel about patriotism is that “politicians often exploit it to manipulate the public.”

[M]ore Americans rate Sen. McCain as patriotic (74 percent) than Sen. Obama (56 percent)…

The poll was commissioned by the True Patriot Network, an amorphous group devoted to reclaiming patriotism. It includes former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu, who also coauthored a book called “The True Patriot.” They stress that the poll results also offers hope — naturally — for Obama:

[W]hen Obama frames his idea of patriotism in terms that call on America to live up to its ideals and promise, respondents prefer his patriotism-centered argument over McCain’s more traditional patriotic framing by 11 points – and that represents a widening of the Obama’s current 8-point, 47-39 percent lead in a ballot test, with significant movement among independent voters….

The survey indicates Americans are frustrated with the divisive and manipulative brand of patriotism that has dominated politics in recent years . They are looking, instead, for a more constructive and future-oriented vision of patriotism…

Okay, then why do more Americans think that McCain — the GOP’s latest chest-thumping flag manipulator — is patriotic while Obama is not?

In reality, the GOP tactics have largely worked. Even if people tell pollsters they prefer a “future oriented” patriotism, (which means what, by the way?), they still respond to the false, manipulative and, yes, racist attempts to paint Obama as insufficiently enthralled with our nation’s flag, symbols and history.

Obama could drape himself in an American flag like Rocky and change his middle name to “America,” but as long as the media faithfully repeats and seriously covers Republican lies about his patriotic credentials, you can bet manipulative patriotism tricks will remain a big part of modern campaigns.*

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