Something ordinary drew my attention during President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The ordinary being rather sense numbing, most Americans undoubtedly noticed but had no particular response. We should all be concerned.
If you saw the speech on TV, you know that Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, responded quite differently. Mr. Biden smiled, applauded almost every remark made by the President and rose often to his feet. Mr. Ryan looked pained. He stood only when Mr. Obama mentioned the military and applauded Mr. Obama’s goal of tackling poverty. Yet in the context of American politics, Mr. Ryan was not acting up.
When Republican presidents have addressed Congress with a Republican VP and a Democratic Speaker behind him, the results have been the same. So there’s no good party and bad party here. What we have is a crisis of loyalty overriding the general welfare.
Yes, we all have our loyalties. They begin with our family, extend to our friends, houses of worship, clubs, political parties certainly, cities and states. If you’re an ethnic, you have a certain loyalty to your country of ethnic, or in my case religious, origin. But at what point do the positives of loyalty—assisting others, advocating for fairness and justice, and making sacrifices—become betrayal?
Three incidents struck me in this regard. Two took place hours before the State of the Union. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces commandeered two American Navy boats and their crews—ten sailors in all—near an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf. When CNN host Wolf Blitzer interviewed Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Blitzer mentioned the White House saying that the incident didn’t seem to be hostile. Mr. Cotton nearly went ballistic: President Obama was not only clueless but actually defending Iran. What would you expect? That’s the Republican Party line. Less than 24 hours later, Iran released the boats and their crews.
The second matter struck me during the CBS Evening News. White House correspondent Major Garrett reported that Senator John McCain (R–Arizona) had considerable differences with Donald Trump but would support Trump if he were nominated for the presidency and won that office. The inference: Loyalty to party takes precedence, even if it includes accepting a distasteful candidate.
Finally, when President Obama mentioned the military, almost all Republicans stood. That was the only time they did so. Surely the President offered a few thoughts worthy of praise. But party loyalty demands that Republicans recognize Democratic ideas at their own risk. The Republican base along with billionaire donors to Political Action Committees (PACs) can oust incumbents in primaries not because they can’t win but because they won’t repeat the far-right mantra.
In 1816 Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779–1820) offered an after-dinner toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” At what point does demonstrating uncompromising loyalty betray the ideals we profess, in effect throwing the nation under the bus?
In 1872, U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (1829–1906) took a different approach. “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz got it.
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
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