“Where at least I know I’m free [...] who gave that right to me”
Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” could well serve as the dividing line for two Americas: one that places patriotism above reason and another that places reason above patriotism. Each has its place, its purpose, and its good and bad.
For all the noise about Tea Partiers, the best-intentioned of them fall squarely in the first camp, for whom the lyrics of “Proud to Be an American” make intuitive sense. They would argue—I would say illogically but sincerely—that freedom from overbearing government is paramount, even if it means dying a young, miserable, painful death from lung cancer because the free market couldn’t offer you the affordable health insurance necessary for an early, actionable diagnosis. The line “Where at least I know I’m free” frustrates that second camp (for example, the city government of Washington, D.C., ) to no end, because it’s a way of saying, “I don’t care that our bad health care and prevalence of guns means we die sooner than everyone in western Europe, because at least my life is more free from government control than theirs.” It frustrates the second camp because it’s illogical: how can you enjoy freedom if you’re dead?
But to the reason-above-patriotism camp, the line “who gave that right to me” is even more vexing. Rights can’t be given by man. Certainly not by “the men who died”. Rights are natural; you’re born with them. They come from God. It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence: “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Dying on the beaches of Normandy or on Lexington Green did nothing to “give” rights. Certainly they were defended, but not given.
It’s an important distinction, because it’s what gives the patriotism-above-reason camp a peg on which to hang accusations of being unpatriotic, the classic “If you question the mission our soldiers are engaged in, you must therefore be unpatriotic.” The reason-above-patriotism camp retorts, “But what’s the point of sacrifice if what soldiers are dying for is meaningless or counterproductive?”
The irony is that both camps believe they are both fully patriotic and reasonable. Yet neither are. And sometimes it takes a thoroughly loved and hated song by Lee Greenwood to illustrate it.