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GOP is blinded by love

December 26, 2008|JOEL STEIN

I don't love America. That's what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there's no winning.

But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.

Fox News' Sean Hannity loves this country so much, he did an entire episode of "Hannity's America" titled "The Greatest Nation on Earth." In that one hour he said, several times, "the U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." One of the surest signs of love is it makes you talk stupid.

Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.

When a Democrat loses the presidential race, real lefties talk a lot about moving to Canada. When Republicans lose, they don't do that. Though, to be fair, they don't have a lot of nearby conservative options. Not even Hannity is a committed enough conservative to yell, "If Obama wins, I'm moving to Singapore."

This doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by American history, impressed by our Constitution or don't appreciate our optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, I love everything Hannity listed on his TV special other than Madonna. But there are plenty of things I don't like about America: our foreign policy, our religious fundamentalism, our provincialism, our intellectual laziness, our acceptance of sweat suits in public.

When I ran the idea that liberals don't love America as much as conservatives by talk-show host Glenn Beck, who will move from CNN Headline News to Fox News next month, he totally agreed with me, which is precisely why I called him. "It's absolutely true, deep love. As a parent loves a child," he said. "But I think liberals laugh that off, the way the rest of the country laughs off the love Texans have for their state. Texans don't think, 'Oklahoma, you suck.' Well, yes they do -- but they don't think other states suck. They just have a love for the republic of Texas. I don't have disdain for other countries. Well, except for France."

I asked Beck why Democrats rarely share his overwhelming sense of American exceptionalism and Francophobia. "I think it's because in the late 1800s up until the 1930s, the progressive movement started to think the European ideals are pretty good, that it's one big world," he said. "Well, it's not. If you look at all the countries like people, there are differences between people. And I happen to like this person the best." When I look at the countries like people, I love Sweden the best.

I accused Beck of loving America just out of birthplace convenience, which is kind of like loving the girl who happens to sit in front of you in homeroom. "If I were born in Great Britain and read about Britain and America, I'd love the values and principles and the men who founded this country," he said. "I love that we crossed these mountains and didn't know what was on the other side. I love that the Pilgrims didn't want to come here, but they came here because they felt prompted to by God. There's always been a spirit of adventure and awe in this land. And I don't think any other country has that." Beck, it seemed, loves America the same way little boys love camping.

Despite Beck's rationalization, I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

I wish I felt such certainty. Sure, it makes life less interesting and nuanced, and absolute conviction can lead to dangerous extremism, but I suspect it makes people happier. I'll never experience the joy of Hannity-level patriotism. I'm the type who always wonders if some other idea or place or system is better and I'm missing out. And, as I figured out shortly after meeting my wife, that is no way to love.

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jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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