Democrats: Don’t let the GOP own patriotism

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Maryland Democratic candidate for Governor Wes Moore
Greg Nash

Maryland Democratic candidate for Governor Wes Moore arrives on stage during a rally at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md., on Monday, November 7, 2022.

Today’s Republican Party seems hell-bent on throwing the American economy and credit into the shredder and fostering insurrectionist extremists. Yet, voters continue to rate them as the more patriotic party.

Democrats should be outraged.

It’s time for Democrats to reclaim the mantle as the party of patriotism, and emerging leaders like Govs. Wes Moore and Josh Shapiro are showing the way.

For too long, Republicans have successfully wrapped the flag and other symbols of patriotism in a veneer of partisanship, falsely portraying Democrats as radicals. This characterization is only worsened by some progressive activists who consistently highlight America’s flaws, rather than touting our accomplishments. But love of country matters, and it lines up with how most Americans feel.

Democrats disdain or ignore patriotism at their peril.

Unfortunately, Democrats are starting in a deep hole. According to Third Way’s polling with Impact Research, less than half (46 percent) of likely voters describe Democrats as patriotic, compared to 56 percent who say the same about Republicans. With a majority of voters identifying as “very” or “extremely” proud to be American, it’s been easy for Republicans to paint Democrats as out of touch.

Some Democrats are getting ahead of those charges. Incoming Maryland governor and Army veteran Wes Moore explained in a recent interview why patriotism holds deep meaning for him: “I was raised by patriots because I was raised by schoolteachers. I was raised by ministers, I was raised by operating engineers, I was raised by people who built this country with their hands.”

Newly-elected Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro made patriotism a similar theme in his campaign. As he took the oath of office, Shapiro pledged to advance the cause of freedom, repeating the word 11 times as he described the need to protect fundamental liberties and “open the doors of opportunity … where everyone gets a shot and no one is left behind.”

Both leaders are taking office in no small part because they were able to unite Democratic, independent, and even Republican voters to form a mainstream coalition capable of defeating extremist opponents.

Freedom, constitutional rights, and personal liberties are phrases that resonate with voters, and Democrats should embrace them.

Three in four Americans believe the country has been a force of good for the world, and just over half have “always” been proud to be an American. And this is not limited to conservatives; most Democratic voters feel a strong sense of patriotism. Over two-thirds of Democrats say America has always been a force for good, and just under half say there has never been a time that they were not proud to be American.

Some on the far left do not share this sentiment. On MSNBC, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) spoke about voter suppression in the 2022 midterms, stating, “We are really truly facing an environment of fascism in the United States of America … It brings us back and harkens back to a very unique form of American apartheid that is not that long past ago, and we have never fully healed from it.”

AOC was right to lambast voter suppression. But this framing suggests that America is not great — that our many failings and defects are too deep a stain to sustain full-throated patriotism. But these critics have it backwards: America is such a great and noble country that it can and must cure its imperfections and learn from its mistakes. As Bill Clinton once noted, “there is nothing that’s wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” Indeed, love of country does not preclude criticizing America and working to make it better.

The strongest Democratic communicators recognize the need to reclaim patriotic values from conservatives.

President Obama was known for his speeches on American exceptionalism.

President Biden has tied his administration’s accomplishments to patriotism and living up to our nation’s ideals. As he touted a new bridge being built thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure package, he said it was about “pride in our country. Pride in what we can do and what we can do when we do it together.”

At a moment when the voices on the right are working harder than ever to jeopardize America’s greatness, Democrats have an opportunity to convince voters that we hold patriotic values and are offering them a brighter future.

That means Democrats must express pride in our country and optimism about what it can be — emphasizing that our best days are still ahead of us.

Aliza Astrow is a senior political analyst and Rachel Reh is a senior communications advisor at Third Way, a center-left think tank. 

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This post was originally published on The Hill

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