The idea of patriotism has many aspects to it, but essentially the word patriotism means love of country. A USA Today — CNN — Gallup survey found that about 94.5% of Americans think of themselves as patriotic, and 72.2% say they are “very” or “extremely patriotic. The idea of patriotism has been argued about and debated for many years in the United States, and while many people have unique ideas, this paper will argue that there is no one right way to express one’s love of country, and to be fair it should not divide family, friends, work colleagues or neighbors no matter what political party they belong to. To each his own, when it comes to how patriotic a person is.

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There are “various ways people love the country, just as there are various ways people love their spouses or friends,” according to Thomas Cushman, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College. Cushman, interviewed in USA Today, said there are three categories as he sees them. One, there is “devout patriotism” which is “unconditional loyalty to country” which can go too far. For example the devout patriot will say “my country right or wrong” and that is perhaps to intense. The second level of patriotism is “symbolic patriotism,” which is people who put a lot of stock in the flag and sing patriot songs. When the Star Spangled Banner is played, a person in number one or number two will put their right hand over their heart. And the third category of patriotism is “constructive or critical patriotism,” according to Cushman. That is the kind of patriotism in which a person believes the best example of patriotism is to love one’s country by challenging the government to do the best it can for the people. A professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton, Nolan McCarty, says that it is divisive when people “not only assert that their idea is patriotic, but they discredit other ideas by suggesting those ideas are not in the best interest of the country” (USA-Today, 2005). The issue of how patriotic a person is came to a head when Senator Barack Obama was running for president and after a town hall meeting a reporter noticed that Obama did not put his hand over his heart when the national anthem was played. Obama said that many people who go to football games and baseball games don’t necessarily put their hands over their hearts. If that was a measure of patriotism, Obama said, “about three-quarters of the people who have ever gone to a football game or a baseball game” would be disqualified ( Then the reporter also noticed that Obama did not wear the little American pin flag on his suit coat lapel. Why does he decide not to wear a flag pin? “The way I will respond to it is with the truth: I owe everything I am to this country.” Republicans have no lock on patriotism, Obama went on, noting that “A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning…” does not have the right to criticize others’ patriotism.

The great American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay that has become very well-known called “Civil Disobedience.” In the essay Thoreau said “That government is best with governs least” and then he clarified himself by adding: “That government is best which governs not at all.” Thoreau admitted that governments need a standing arm, but that is only “an arm of the standing government,” he said. But he disagreed in the American army being involved in the Mexican War. Thoreau was an intellectual and a very talented writer, but he was probably not an “average” citizen based on the way he saw American and how he related to the government. There will “never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power,” Thoreau said. What he meant by that is after the United States broke away from England, and won the Revolutionary War, the people did not want to be ruled by a central powerful government anymore. The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States stressed that the people has a right to redress their grievances before the government, and that everyone had the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thoreau said that the power and authority of the government should come from the people and the people should be treated with respect. “I know that most men think differently from myself,” he admitted, but he went on to say that politicians (“statesmen and legislators”) may have “experience and discrimination” and they “no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems.” But though the American people should thank them, they forget that the world is not “governed by policy and expediency.” The Constitution, “with all its faults, is very good,” said Thoreau, and the law and the courts are “very respectable.” But there are “unjust laws” and he wonders, should “we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them?” He was clearly irritated that too many men “think that if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil.”


There are many different opinions when it comes to patriotism, but those who are too extreme and are intolerant of others should tone down their views. And when someone attacks another (like some attacked Obama) because they think they are more patriotic, that is not true patriotism. It is a big country, and there is room for many views of patriotism. Even Henry David Thoreau, whose views are a bit radical, has a right to believe what he believes in. The wars that have been fought and the men who have died for their country were fighting for the rights to have different opinions in a free country. It is interesting that Obama objected to being criticized about not wearing a flag pin, but today he wears one just so he won’t be criticized again.

Works Cited

CNN. “Obama Fights Back on Questions About His Patriotism.” Cable News Network.

Retrieved December 11, 2009, from (2008)

Rereading America. “Civil Disobedience.” pp. 836-847.

USA Today. “What is Patriotism?” Retrieved December 11, 2009, from