Thursday, August 27, 2009

Louisville welcomes you

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke at the American Legion's national convention yesterday. Given the flack she drew from the Legion over the DHS's report on right-wing extremism -- a report that, of course, turned out to be accurate-- she probably just wanted to get out of there as quickly as she could.

[forgive me a quick historical aside. In it's open letter to DHS the Legion cites its condemnation in 1923 of "white supremacist and anti-government groups," alluding directly to the Ku Klux Klan. The Legion did NOT condemn the Klan, as National Commander Rehbein implies, in his letter. That convention, in fact, witnessed an ugly floor fight over whether or not to explicitly condemn the Klan by name. The effort split the convention and nearly caused a riot and was defeated because the Legion and Klan shared many members in the Midwest. Continue.]

Napolitano mentioned briefly again in her speech that she regretted the decision to release the hastily-prepared report. Since the behavior of the fringe right this summer suggests the report made sound evaluations of potential veteran "lone wolf" threats, such kowtowing is unnecessary.

But the greater (and blog-related) issue here is I think Napolitano, former New Mexico Girls State attendee, missed a great opportunity for the Administration to frame itself as a champion of Americanism. Legion national conventions provide a unique backdrop. The Legion, like the VFW, considers itself one of the wellsprings of patriotism in American life because of the special citizenship status of its members. They claim they can speak for what "American values" should represent because veterans fought for them. Political figures can drag the image of patriotism and national strength the Legion provides in directions of their choosing. Witness Donald Rumsfeld's disgusting attempt to equate critics of the war in Iraq as Nazi-cuddling appeasers in Salt Lake City in 2006.

Rather than give a speech that sounded like a something from a Rotary Club meeting, counting the number of veterans DHS has on the payroll, Napolitano should have challenged the Legion to accept a clear declaration of principles. The grumblings about the legitimacy of the Obama Administration are unacceptable and the threat of politically-motivated violence is real. A portion of that threat may come from veterans, but rather than take that as an indictment of veterans' patriotism (an image of which the Legion has carefully cultivated since its founding) the Legion should join with the government in upholding democratic rule of law. Furthermore, true patriots accept the legitimacy of differing political ideas and initiatives, even when they disagree with them. Some of the men in the convention hall fought actual Nazis. The Administration could have at least asked them to remind us what that term meant. It would have been more gutsy but more useful than asking them to help out with swine flu.

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