Shoving Patriotism Aside in Favor of That 70’s Show

The murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his aides should have been more than enough cause for our country to come together. After all, it was exactly 11 years earlier that liberals rallied behind President George W. Bush. But a little more than a decade later, Republicans have lost more than the presidency. They’ve lost something that was once their calling card: Patriotism.

Right-wing talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin clearly chose their party over their country in how they reacted to the Libyan attack. Salivating after a supposed political opening, they uniformly tore into America’s commander-in-chief and let the real terrorists off the hook. “We’re only supposed to have one president now – at times like this?” mocked Rush Limbaugh. “Well, we don’t have one, unless Romney speaks up!” “These optics suck, White House!” shouted Malkin, longing for a fake photo-op. No, Michelle. What sucks is that our ambassador was assassinated.

Perhaps most astonishing was how nearly every one of these nuanced cultural observers compared Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney to Ronald Reagan – all in exactly the same way – as if they shared a purely partisan, anti-American brain. No time for mourning. No time for unity. We’ve got an election coming up! If only it was 1979 and we actually had a prayer of winning this thing!

“I remember Ronald Reagan hitting Jimmy Carter, who was the sitting president, every day for his incompetence involving the Iranian hostage crisis,” shrieked Limbaugh on his show. “Politics stopping at the water’s edge, my foot!” Unfortunately for him, Kramer vs. Kramer is not going to win an Oscar this year, the best-selling car isn’t a Cutlass and the Seattle Supersonics aren’t NBA champions – in fact, they’re not even a team anymore.

In other words, you’re three decades too late to try to sell us this soap opera, people.

A full week before the Stevens murder, former George W. Bush staffer Bradley Blakeman wrote an opinion piece for FoxNews.com, “Obama is Jimmy Carter 2.0,” trying his best to make it seem like “the evidence is mounting more than ever to suggest that President Obama is morphing into failed Democratic President Jimmy Carter.” Now that a U.S. ambassador has been killed, Blakeman and his crew think they’ve finally found their way back to the era of The Love Boat.

Except they haven’t.

Unless Obama was secretly a peanut farmer or Romney suddenly grew a backbone, the only thing similar to 1979 is that American diplomats were attacked. The Romneyites desperately want to star in That 70’s Show – not because they want the economy to turn around or for freedom to ring around the world. They want it to be 1979 because they pray every night for Mitt to miraculously transform into Gipp.

If being a true patriot were as easy as wearing a flag lapel pin, the Republicans would have it in spades. If whoever mentioned 9/11 the most in speeches got the most patriot points, they’d have every election locked up. Patriotism requires saying no to self. It means sacrifice – even of one’s own personal political leanings – for the sake of country. Not that you can’t disagree with the president (that’s patriotic in its own way, too), but attacking him – instead of the terrorists themselves – moments after a terrorist attack is simply pushing patriotism aside in favor of political opportunism.

Yes, there’s a difference between politics and policy. Republicans are frenzied and focused on winning back the White House. They can afford to ignore detailed nuts-and-bolts statecraft for how a president should handle a diplomatic crisis. Still, as unsavory as political campaigns can be, the right’s knee-jerk attempt to bring down Obama so soon after the attack – even as he was sending in the Marines – was both bad policy and bad politics.

Christopher Stevens was the best kind of patriot. He worked to spread the American values of democracy and free enterprise as Obama’s highest-ranking diplomat in Libya. He was fluent in Arabic and French – making him doubly unlikable to the likes of Limbaugh – and he was passionate about sowing the seeds of freedom in a nation struggling toward a fair representative government. When people saw Ambassador Stevens, they saw one of our best, brightest and most patriotic native sons.

Now, he’s no longer with us. The U.S. military and state department will make sure someone pays for his murder. Neocons will try to make sure that someone is President Obama.

Alex Runner

Alex Runner is a Milwaukee-based writer and editor.