So Barack Obama is again using one of the most contemptible phrases in American politics — “economic patriotism.”
There are many credible reasons to despise this rhetorical construct. Patriotism, after all, is the attachment to one’s homeland, a nationalistic devotion to one’s country and the values that make it great. If a person not only resists things that are “patriotic,” but opposes them, then logic dictates that person is being unpatriotic. So the president is really asking one question: Why do you hate America?
Obama has been dropping the phrase for years, though it’s nothing new. In recent history, Paul Tsongas, preparing to run in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1991, demanded that people demonstrate “economic loyalty” to the United States. He argued that “many of those who lament the decline in our standard of living are driving foreign cars” and that this kind of consumer choice would “benefit another country’s team” and hurt the economy. In 1993, the right’s leading isolationist/protectionist Patrick Buchanan used the exact term “economic patriotism” to describe his vision for the future, and these days we have people like Richard Trumka or Katrina Vanden Heuvel arguing that limiting innovation and free trade are forms of patriotism.
Obama takes the idea in a different direction, arguing that when profits go overseas we not only (supposedly) lose jobs here at home, but we damage our future because government can’t expand at the rate he prefers:
Instead of protecting tax loopholes that let corporations keep their profits overseas, let’s put some of that money to work right here in the United States rebuilding America. We can rebuild our airports, create the next generation of good manufacturing jobs, make sure those are made in America.
A politician may rally millions of economic illiterates to his cause with this sort speechifying, but these are not “loopholes,” they are “business decisions” that companies make when they face high regulatory burdens or high corporate taxes. Since the goal of a business is not to become a more effective tax collector or health-care provider, as this administration seems to believe, moving off-shore or tax-inversion — which might mean $20 billion less for the Treasury over a decade — is becoming more popular. But, either way, a lack of new tariffs and taxes does not “reward companies for moving profits overseas” as much as U.S. tax and regulatory policy is a punishment for them staying. Besides, where we stand on the issue of corporate taxation is no way to measure a person’s loyalty to his country.
Actually, logic would also dictate – and Tsongas was far more honest on this front — that if you’re texting on your Samsung phone while driving your Honda or BMW you are also complicit in unpatriotic behavior. You are, in most cases, sending your cash to companies that aren’t pitching in enough to rebuild our airports. Plenty of companies that normally suck up to the administration — General Electric, IBM, Merck and Microsoft, to name a few –believe that punishing foreign companies for doing business in the United States is a bad idea. Are all these companies unpatriotic, as well? Someone should ask the president.
But let’s not forget, for Obama the idea of “economic patriotism” is elastic. The contours of its philosophy are now identical to the president’s own policy proposals. Which is curious, considering we’re supposed to set aside “politics” to achieve our communal goal. Then again, while you may be knee-deep in politics, our president is guided solely by common sense. Here’s how Obama explained economic patriotism on July 4th:
It’s a sort of economic patriotism where you say to yourself, how is it that we can start rebuilding this country to make sure that all of the young people who are here but their kids and their grandkids are going to be able to enjoy the same incredible opportunities that this country offers as we have. That’s our job. That’s what we should be focused on. And it’s worth remembering as we go into Independence Day.
Yes, thinking up new ways to create reliance on government is exactly what the Founders had in mind in 1776. How do we achieve this? A few years ago, Obama released a 22-page campaign stunt called “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security.” Thin on details, it was big on advocating for new stimulus to fund a slew of liberal hobbyhorses. The title, “New Economic Patriotism” oozed an authoritarian scent, and, fittingly enough, anyone who disagreed was “betting against America.” This is just one of the accusations regularly thrown around these days to chill speech.
And as the president lets it rip, perhaps we should take his definition of patriotism seriously. Though the idea can be somewhat amorphous, patriotism and nationalism, especially in this country, is driven by idealism rather than chauvinism or ethnic and religious considerations. The kind of idealism that soldiers go and die for. So if you believe that left-wing economic policies are synonymous with “patriotism” but religious freedom, freedom of speech and economic freedom are antiquated notions in need of fixing, maybe it’s your idea of American nationalism that is warped.