Here are a few numbers from the latest Reuters-Zogby poll. See if you can find the one that's not like the others:
Rated President Bush's performance as excellent or good: 25%
Rated Congress' performance as excellent or good: 11%
Said the U.S. is heading in the right direction: 26%
Rated the performance of U.S. foreign policy excellent or good: 18%
Rated the performance of U.S. economic policy excellent or good: 26%
Said they were very or fairly proud of the U.S.: 88%
Those numbers remind me of a bit from Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment:
"...you might not like everything about your country, eh? It might not be the perfect place, but it's ours. You might not think we've got the best laws, but they're ours. The mountains might not be the prettiest ones or the tallest ones, but they're ours. We're fighting for what's ours, men!"
After about an hour, when rain was drumming on the canvas, Carborundum said: "Okay, den, I fink I've worked it out. If people are groophar stupid, then we'll fight for groophar stupidity, 'cos it's our stupidity. And dat's good, yeah?"
Several of the squad sat up in the darkness, amazed at this.
"I realize I ought to know these things, but what does groophar mean?" said the voice of Maladict in the damp darkness.
"Ah, well . . . when, right, a daddy troll an' a mummy troll --"
"Good, right, yes, I think I've got it, thank you," said Maladict. "And what you've got there, my friend, is patriotism. My country, right or wrong."
There's absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of your country. There's nothing wrong with being proud of your country even during periods when our leaders are cheerfully skipping down the path to armageddon. There's nothing wrong with being proud of your country right now - no matter what you think about our government and where they're taking us.
But what are you proud of?
Very few of us are proud of the President. That's fair enough, and I'm certainly not one of the select few who like him. In the past few years, he has cut taxes for the rich, running up an insanely high tab that our kids and grandkids are going to be stuck paying off. He's narrowed the definition of torture so far that it's entirely possible that the rack is now considered to be merely an "enhanced interrogation technique," and we can only claim that our country does not condone or engage in torture if you accept his definition. He talks like a cowboy, and acts like a rodeo clown.
Most of us aren't proud of Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. At the moment, the Daily Kos - a Democratic-leaning site if there ever was one - has them at 12 and 11 percent approval respectively. That's not much of a shock. Despite gaining the majority of the seats in Congress, they're managing to continue to act like they're in the minority. Pick an issue, and if there's been a chance for the Democratic leadership to cave in to the Republicans without putting up more than token resistance, they've probably done just that. They did, however, manage to pass a resolution that condemned an organization that was instrumental in putting them into the majority for saying something mean in a newspaper ad.
There aren't a lot of us who are proud of our foreign policy at the moment. We're currently engaged in waging two wars, neither of which has been going quite as well as we might want. In the process of launching the second of the two, we managed to irritate just about every one of our traditional allies, and some of our tactics have cost us whatever credibility we once had on the topic of human rights.
The economic front doesn't provide much in the way of grounds for pride right now, either. The mean household income is up, but the median is down. In English, that translates to, "the rich are getting richer, and everyone else is getting hosed." The top one percent of wage earners, who saw their share of the wealth increase, might be proud of that, but more than half the country is making less after inflation now than they were a couple of years ago. I doubt that many of them are very proud of our economic policies at the moment.
With all of that, what is there to be proud of?
Personally, I'm damn proud of the American system of government right now. We have not merely the right, but the responsibility to go to the ballot box and commit an act of regime change if the government is serving us poorly. We have not merely the right, but the responsibility to speak up when we see an area where the government could do things better. We have not merely the right, but the responsibility to participate in our government. We can, if we so choose, overthrow the government every other year.
That's what I'm proud of, but what about you? If you think that the President is a moron, that Congress is useless, that the economy and foreign policy are on the road to perdition, and are proud of the United States, what exactly are you proud of? What is it about the United States that stirs your pride?
If you can't answer that question - or, worse, if you are proud of our system of government but have not been willing to fulfill your responsibility to actively participate in our government - then you are groophar stupid. And part of the problem.