It’s OK to be a Yankee Doodle Dandee
I was once part of the band that would be eventually named “George M. Cohan’s Own“, and I was interested to read about the recent Independence Day weekend unveiling of a new bust of George M. Cohan on Wickenden street. It is a fitting tribute to the man who penned so many patriotic songs.
The Broadway impresario, who provided the American soundtrack for World War I and World War II, is an emblem of a time that can seem impossibly distant for the young and skeptical: a time of unabashed pride in country.
He was of an era, said Michael Fink, a Cohan aficionado and professor of English at the Rhode Island School of Design, when freedom meant something other than the opportunity to criticize.
“In my generation,” Fink said, “we were free to love America.”
I appreciate the work that Fink has done to memorialize Cohan, but I thought that an odd thing to say. We are still free to love America. We always have been. That is, unless we let contemporary politics color our perception, as described in David Scharfenberg’s story:
Cohan, portrayed by James Cagney in the 1942 biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, was not the idealized figure of the film. He divorced once. Clashed with the Broadway actors union. He had some warts.
And for the children of the Watergate era, the warts are the thing. Or are they?
The youthful embrace of Barack Obama — still strong seven months into his administration — suggests a longing for a new sort of patriotism. Perhaps not Yankee Doodle Dandy. More critical than that. More reserved.
But something hopeful and proud, nonetheless.
The young and liberal-minded were not free to love America under President Bush. But now, for the hipsters ambling past that bust of George M. Cohan, an opening.
Apparently, the “young and liberal-minded” (and I suspect some of the “old”) are conflating patriotism with politics, which cheapens the former. America is greater than contemporary political personalities and their policies. We should love America for its ideals–liberty, freedom, opportunity–regardless of whether we think those ideals are being followed or not. Patriotism is love for or devotion to one’s country. Not the person who leads it, no matter how magnificent he or she may or may not be.