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.

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14 years ago

I say Ambrose Bierce was closer to the mark (must have been a Bush hater)…

PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.
In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.

14 years ago

Quoting “Bitter Bierce“, eh? Here are some other goodies from his “Devil’s Dictionary“:
TARIFF – A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the domestic producer against the greed of his consumer.
POVERTY – A file provided for the teeth of the rats of reform. The number of plans for its abolition equals that of the reformers who suffer from it, plus that of the philosophers who know nothing about it. Its victims are distinguished by possession of all the virtues and by their faith in leaders seeking to conduct them into a prosperity where they believe these to be unknown.
LAWYER – One skilled in circumvention of the law. (shhh, don’t tell Matt!)
BIGOT – One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
And Finally
HAPPINESS – An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.
(which explains a lot about Mr. Bierce)

14 years ago

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.
George Bernard Shaw

14 years ago

Hey, the right has claimed a monopoly on patriotism for a long time, and may rightfully feel threatened by those of us lefties who proudly fly the Stars and Stripes at our front doors.

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