A Veteran’s Plea: Patriotism is Not a Tea Party. Neither is a Funeral.

A Veteran’s Plea: Patriotism is Not a Tea Party. Neither is a Funeral. October 9, 2014

A powerful guest post by my dad.

Some time back, I joined  a nonprofit organization that aims to ensure dignity and respect at memorial services for veterans. Among other things, they organize human shields against the Westboro loonies. Those Westboro folks have never been a problem where I live (I like to think they don’t have the guts to come to my state!), but the nonprofit does other things to support veterans and their families, and that appeals to me very much.

I’m not really much of a joiner — as a child I heard my mother make reference to Thoreau’s different drummer, and immediately  thought, “Yes!  That’s it! Someone understands!” Cliche though it may be, however, the military really did save my life years ago, and being a veteran remains an important part of who I am.

My first `mission,’ as they call it, came via email:  two veterans from my native city were going to be buried NOA (No One Attending) at our local V.A. cemetery.

Age 22 -- after 4.5 years of active duty and still so baby-faced!
The guest blogger at age 22 — after 4.5 years of active duty and still so baby-faced!

Our mission? To see to it that there would indeed be people standing by as these men were laid to rest. I was warmly welcomed by the regulars, and enjoyed, in between funerals, talking with the other members.  Nearly all were veterans, generally Vietnam era, and most were avid motorcyclists as well.  We talked bikes, mainly.  You didn’t have to ask anyone about prior service, as everyone was festooned with patches and pins that proclaimed their status.  Well, except me, although my license plate frame does say “U.S. Veteran.”

The only negative thing for me was that one of the vehicles — a car used to carry the flags — was not only covered with pro-veteran and pro-military stickers, but also prominently displayed a number of large protest signs emblazoned with extremely partisan political slogans; things along the lines of “Don’t Redistribute My Wealth — Redistribute My Work Ethic.”

Now the right to display such things is precisely what everyone buried there fought for, but should partisan politics be so “in your face” evident at such an event?

With all due respect, I think not. Interestingly enough, the men we laid to rest that day were senior citizens from one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states.  Their being former enlisted men makes it very likely that they were working class, and they would have been young at a time when our city still had a lot of good union jobs.  One of the two men, as evidenced by his surname, was Hispanic.

Anyone want to guess how these two men had probably voted their whole lives?

And yet there it was:  the classic conservative rant about how all the welfare moochers are ruining the country, blah, blah, blah.

Cynic that I am, I began wondering how many of the men standing with me were enjoying nice pensions from union jobs, and how many of those union jobs were civil service.  All were enjoying V.A. benefits, and most were getting Social Security benefits as well.  Their parents had all most certainly benefited from — and had had perhaps even been saved by — the New Deal.

The progressive reforms of the 20th century had made these men who they who they were, indeed had made their very lives possible.  Whether they knew it or not, my fellow veterans were living, breathing vindications of progressive policies.

And yet there it was:  the absurd rhetorical false choice between a work ethic and poverty.

My own views on these points are probably clear, but I’m most troubled by two things:

First, context is everything.

By all means slather your car with whatever partisan slogan you want, but never make such prominently displayed protest signs part of a funeral procession.  This is a funeral, not a tea party.

Second, let’s stop the false conflation of conservative politics with patriotism.  

I don’t think for a moment that my fellow vets intended anything inappropriate by slathering that vehicle with partisan slogans. I believe they simply assumed that it was acceptable because they assumed, as so many conservatives do today, that patriotism and conservative policy are essentially one and the same. Because that’s what those bumper stickers, in this context, clearly imply:  We are veterans, we are patriots, and we are conservatives, because of course all veterans and patriots are staunch conservatives.

Like it or not, there are an awful lot of liberal democrats in these national cemeteries.  In fact, as has been often pointed out, many of the loudest mouths on the right today never wore their country’s uniform.  They chickened out when their country called, and now have the unmitigated gall to wrap themselves in the flag and challenge other people’s patriotism.

I am registered as an Independent.  Again — I am not a joiner.  Over the years I have voted for candidates of both major parties, as well as third party candidates.  I hold positions that are conservative, and others that are progressive, or liberal. And I have friends and family all across the political spectrum.

I rejoice in our freedom and diversity. But I categorically reject the view, or assumption, that to be a true patriot (and, by the way, a Christian!), I must embrace conservative politics, especially as regards economic policy.   I loved standing with other veterans to pay respect to our departed comrades in arms, and I’ll do it again.  I even ordered some jacket patches so I’ll blend in a little better, so maybe  I’m not that much of a non-conformist.

But I will have to talk to the guys about the partisan posturing at the cemetery, because that is not okay.  It’s a funeral, pal — not a tea party.

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