Question authority

September 25, 2007|By DANIELLE HIGGINS


Patriotism is loyalty to one's country. That's the simple, dictionary definition.

But does that loyalty extend to the government of one's country, as well? Does a patriot promise tireless devotion to the country's leaders and to their policies?

The definition of patriotism is not as simple as it seems at first glance. American society values freedom, especially the freedom of speech. But in turbulent times such as this, we struggle to balance freedom of expression with a perception that Americans need to present a united front.

However, a united front does not have to involve flag waving and closed lips. The with-us-or-against-us mentality needs to go in order to make room for a new idea: plurality.


After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush first uttered the words that continue to shape his foreign policy: If you're not with us, you're against us in the fight against terror. To his credit, Bush is determined to meet his goals in Iraq and in his administration's global war on terror. However, his unwillingness to modify his policies and goals has deeply polarized the nation.

Just before the November 2006 elections, Bush declared that a Democratic victory would mean "terrorists win and America loses." This partisanship taints the democratic process and is contrary to the values that shape this country. And yes, both sides have made partisan statements.

The U.S. is a nation of many people, cultures and ideas. To leave no room for neutrality or a third viewpoint is absurd. A dissenting opinion does not make a person a terrorist. Asking questions does not allow the terrorists to win.

If we're going to use that rhetoric, when the terrorists win is when we stop asking questions. It takes a certain loyalty to the nation to form a dissenting opinion. Loving this country enough to ask questions is true patriotism.

By asking questions, the people hold their leaders accountable. The Constitution guarantees the American people the right to the freedom of speech for a reason: It places a control on the government. It is the duty of every citizen to use his freedom of speech to question the government and to voice his own opinion.

With the technology available today, it is easier than ever to exercise this patriotic duty. Over the summer, the CNN-YouTube debate featured questions submitted by users of the Web site. There are countless political blogs online, and you can always write a letter to a newspaper.

But the easiest and most influential thing you can do is to be an informed voter.

Many teens will vote for the first time in the 2008 election. The election is still a year away, but it is imperative that teens begin to look at the candidates and learn about the issues. Even if you will not be old enough to vote, it is still important to learn about the candidates and the election process. You can also become involved in presidential campaigns.

True patriotism means being involved. Patriotism is having an opinion and voicing it. It is the acceptance of more than one idea. Questions, opinions and diversity make up the lifeblood of democracy. Simply waving a flag while refusing to ask questions - or condemning those who do ask questions - is a superficial display of patriotism.

"Patriotism," Mark Twain once said, "is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it."

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