Now, add an equally angry group, often veterans, chanting "America, love it or leave it!"
Fifty years later, it's possible to call each group patriotic, although it was difficult to see at the time.
These two groups represented opposite ends of a continuum regarding a government policy. Conservatives on one end, thinking that, in times of war, we should all stand with the government. Burning flags and draft cards were unpatriotic if not treasonous.
Liberals on the other end, thinking that the war (and the draft) must stop, sad and angry that 60,000 Americans died defending a flawed foreign policy.
People in the U.S. were spread all along the continuum, with few in the middle.
Remembering this history is instructive, because today we have a new continuum about a new argument. Ironically, we must now put the liberals on the side supporting government policies, and the conservatives opposite, resisting those policies.
Conservatives now think that resisting the government is very patriotic. They've adapted metaphors from the Revolutionary War, calling themselves the Tea Party, arming themselves against a repressive government, using phrases like "taking our country back," refusing to compromise — just like "Give me liberty or give me death!"
So, why does this current rebellion not feel like patriotism to me? Perhaps it’s because today's rebels have conceptually separated government from the Union, making it possible for them to hate the government while loving America. This distinction may work for a monarch-ruled colony, but it's difficult to defend in a democracy with a twice-elected president, whose most oppressive action was getting health care to more people.
Vietnam protesters didn't hate government, per se; they hated specific government policies. No one was thinking that government, as an institution, was the problem and wanted to “drown it in the bathtub." Goals weren’t contingent on debasing government, but on moving government to change its policies.
Far-right conservatives, under a banner of “taking our government back,” are not offering a better government — just a smaller, weaker one. The sequester cuts, designed to hurt everyone, were just fine for them. They are not discussing the advancement of justice for all, equality for all, or fairness for all. Their strategy is resistance, not problem solving, not future building, not unity.
If I were running an organization that wanted to cripple the U.S. government, this is what I'd do: First, I would delegitimize their leader. I'd say that he wasn't even a citizen and, therefore, undeserving of being president. With disdain, I would not accept any documents offering proof of citizenship, thus eliminating any way to refute my outrageous claims. I'd insist that he was secretly an angry Muslim, just like al Qaida. Then I'd do everything I could to stop his legislative agenda, calling him a socialist and fascist (who cares if they are opposites). I’d yell, “You lie! “ during his State of the Union speech.
When he adopts a conservative proposal, like the individual health care mandate — first proposed by the Heritage Foundation, endorsed by Republicans Grassley, Gingrich and others, and enacted at the state level by our presidential candidate — I'd find some distinction, no matter how small, and claim his proposal is nothing like ours, ensure no one from our party votes for it, insist on a supermajority for even the smallest legislative act, refuse to participate at the state level, take it to the Supreme Court, vote repeatedly to repeal it; misrepresent it by planting ideas like death panels, increased debt and unconstitutionality, and urge citizen who could benefit from it to abstain.
Additionally, I'd start a relentless, take-no-prisoners campaign that began the first day of the current president’s election and never let up. I'd use the debt limit and the continuing resolution as a bargaining chip, and threaten to close down the government every few months. I would be willing to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk to achieve my ends.
Anyway, that's what I'd do if I wanted to hurt the world’s most successful democracy. By continuing the rope-a-dope political antics, I'd make it impossible to address more pressing issues like unemployment, immigration, aging infrastructure, failing education, shrinking middle class, imbalance of trade, a streamlined tax policy — just to name the obvious. While China — our biggest economic rival — convened, debated and passed a five-year plan, I’d foment meaningless churn and kept it going for what looks like eight years, perhaps more.
Is it possible to remain the world's most powerful economy and innovation leader with a dysfunctional government? I think not.
Government has a key role to play, and those who cripple it as a long-term strategy are not patriots, not the loyal opposition; they're saboteurs.
— By Richard Kamischke, Tribune community columnist