By: Chris Warren.
We have survived two political conventions. No matter what side one is on, it’s universally agreed that two weeks every four years is pushing the limits of tolerance. One conclusion I made from watching portions of both spectacles is that playing the patriot card is often an effective campaign tactic, but it can devalue honorable service and become very unpatriotic and ugly.
For those who don’t know, in political vernacular “playing the patriot card” means to wrap an issue in a theme of loyalty to country, and if you don’t agree, you’re not a good American. The message is almost always delivered by someone with a connection to the military. Because the military is so highly regarded in the United States, people are less inclined to publicly disagree with the message because it implies disrespect to the messenger.
The hustle works like this: A veteran or the family of a veteran who has made a significant sacrifice in service to their country appears at a political rally and publicly endorses a candidate, or speaks against the opposing candidate. Their status presumably gives them a high level of insulation against criticism from the other side. Nobody wants to tell a military hero or their relative that he or she is full of crap (even if they actually are). Anyone who does is loudly called out as insensitive and anti-American. That is how a successful play of the patriot card goes down, and it’s very effective.
Here’s where I have a problem: When someone uses a deep personal sacrifice as a premise to promote a political candidate or cause, to a great extent they forfeit their right to be treated gently because of that sacrifice. They knew or should have known that transforming into an activist means being given much less deference. Their immunity is further eroded if they continue to make media appearances and repeat the same rants. At that point their story no longer belongs to them. They donated it to a political cause.
The first question that comes to mind is, is it disrespectful to trash talk a sympathetic figure who plays the patriot card when you disagree with their political statements? But there is a second question no one ever asks: Isn’t is also disrespectful to offer up the honor of a military hero to score votes for a candidate?
To me the only sensible answer is either “yes” to both questions or “no” to both. One cannot logically have it both ways and say it’s disrespectful to criticize a veteran or their relatives while totally ignoring the fact that it was the veteran or relative themselves who willfully allowed their patriotic contribution to be used as a shill for a political campaign in the first place. Of course even in politics there is such a thing as “too low,” but it’s not my place to figure out that mess. I’ll leave it to others to decide where legitimate criticism ends and ad hominem attacks begin.
In a perfect world, political views would be supported with polite, reasoned arguments and facts. Because American politics seldom operates within any realm of reason or civility, the rules are different than in real life. Those who have sacrificed for their country absolutely, positively deserve the respect they’ve earned. But when they play the patriot card and deal themselves in to the chaotic game of politics, they should understand that the moral armor of distinguished military service becomes much thinner when it is used as a prop for a candidate.