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If you're a conservative Republican, you believe in the four G's. There are two good G's: God and Guns -- can't have too much of either. And there are two bad G's: Gays and Government -- life is better without either.

Well, I don't want to get into the peculiarly Republican bias against gays. But minimizing the other bad G -- Government -- has some merit. Makes sense to have a bunch of steadfast conservatives representing us in Denver, if only to curb the state's tendency to poke its figurative snout into everyone's business.

You want open space, clean air and decent funding for public education? Get some liberals! You want low taxes, higher speed limits, and no photo radar? Get some conservatives!

So just what is ultraconservative Senator John Andrews doing? He's introduced a bill mandating "patriotism" classes in public schools! Now I suppose that we ought not to take all this too seriously; judging from the screed that Andrews, a Republican from Arapahoe County, penned for last Friday's Denver Post on his proposed legislation, he doesn't take it very seriously himself.

Rather than extol the merits of teaching our kids to love their country, he just lit into Democrats, college professors and assorted degenerates who, for their own unpatriotic reasons, don't like his bill. Andrews must know that the bill has no chance of passing. It's not a serious piece of legislation, just a smarmy political maneuver aimed at making his opponents look bad.

Still, it's interesting to think about patriotism; what it is, what it means to each of us, and whether the schools ought to teach it. Even assuming that the community could agree on the content of a "patriotism" course, teaching it would be self-defeating. As a wise therapist once told me, "Listen to the music, not the words." And the music that the kids would hear would be that of a government-mandated propaganda exercise, taught by resentful, even rebellious instructors, full of unexplained contradictions, half-truths and evasions.

When, for example, we talk about the Constitution, do we emphasize the rule of law, the Bill of Rights and the genius of our founders, all cause for patriotic pride?

And do we ignore/gloss over the fact that the Constitution institutionalized slavery and restricted the franchise to free male property owners?

And do we teach the European settlement of America as manifest destiny, or as conquest and genocide?

The truth is simple: The history of our country, like the history of every other country, is full of stories both noble and ignoble, of violence and kindness, and of justice and lawlessness. History, honestly taught, does not lend itself to patriotic homilies; it's murky, messy and dissonant.

Senator Andrews would like to indoctrinate today's skeptical kids with the kind of one-note patriotism that his generation learned in elementary school, but that era has passed.

Like most of us, I love my country. And, like most of us, I have my own reasons for so doing. I didn't learn them in school; I learned them from living in America, among other Americans.

When I was in junior high, in the early '50s, at least 20 states had laws forbidding mixed-race marriages. Racial segregation had the force of law throughout the South. Women, for the most part, were shut out of the job market. Abortion was illegal, although frequent and dangerous. Workplace safety was not an issue. Companies simply dumped toxic effluent into the nearest stream, public health be damned. And up in Wyoming, a bunch of rich ranchers invented a delightful new sport: shooting bald eagles from helicopters.

And today? Through peaceful, if contentious change, our country has transformed itself. Thanks both to decades of legislation (mostly championed by those unpatriotic Democrats), and to tireless activists (mostly Lefties), it's a different country.

Today's America has gone way beyond the crabbed and narrow conceptions of our founding fathers. I can't imagine that they'd be pleased with today's great and glorious land, where all of us -- of whatever race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, or political affiliation -- enjoy a rough equality.

We're neither unique nor perfect. At best, we're the product of tens of millions of good people striving to make a better world. And that's enough for me, and it may be enough for my mixed-race children and grandchildren, for my gay and lesbian friends, and for my two female bosses. We're all patriots, in our own way.

As is our poor, muddleheaded, transparently scheming Senator Andrews.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

  • John Hazlehurst on the ins and outs of patriotism

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