The Unpatriotic War

A few years ago, Phil Donahue changed my thinking.

He went on The O’Reilly Factor and pummeled the Fox News pundit as no one has, before or since. It was refreshing to watch the alpha-male O’Reilly get pushed around by one of his guests for a change, with Donahue repeatedly addressing him as “Billy,” and asking: “Why can’t you become the patriot that your loud voice proclaims to be?”

Donahue’s rhetoric was forceful and fresh. He spoke against the war in a style all his own.

  • “This war is not fair to the American troops.
  • This war turned its back on the people who framed the most fabulous document in the history of mankind—I speak of the United States Constitution.”
  • “There is no democracy without dissent.”
  • “You should be proud of people who protest, Billy. A lot of fine young men and women went and died to give me that right.”

That was the first time I’d heard someone call the war itself “unpatriotic,” or “anti-American.” Such labels usually are reserved for concerned citizens who dare to ask questions.

Representative democracy, after all, means that sovereignty resides with “the people.” Why not start speaking in a way that will inspire more people to listen, rather than continuing to walk the passive tightrope on which mainstream corporate Democrats tread lightly?

Donahue denounces the war and our government without rejecting America in its entirety. I realize this is unsexy to the far left, where “patriotism” may as well be a Swastika. But it’s also more inclusive, inviting under the tent those who have the audacity to love our country, and challenging us to begin to think on its behalf. This sort of reasoned and empathetic language resonates with mainstream Americans in a way that wearing pink pajamas to congressional hearings and making rooster noises does not. It reaches fence-sitters and moderates who may be turned off by the leftward bloviating they see among generic bloggers trying to out-radicalize one another. It doesn’t alienate country bumpkins for being too stupid to see how things are set up, either.

In presenting patriotism as a weapon against war, Donahue gave me a voice more authentically mine, a way to express dissent that felt genuine to me, and seemed purposeful to me–unlike, say, leaving my hat on during the national anthem as a fruitless gesture to one-up the pointlessness of bumper stickers.

Last night Donahue again braved the corrupt waters at Fox News, this time to promote his new documentary, Body of War. Again his performance was impressive, if hindered slightly by the unfortunate handicap that weighs on anyone who tries to debate Sean Hannity: that is, being stuck with Allen Colmes on your side.

Despite Colmes’ resolve to interrupt Donahue to make his points sound generic and less powerful, Phil’s message got across. It is anti-American to support this war.


~ by Matthew Frederick on April 11, 2008.

6 Responses to “The Unpatriotic War”

  1. “We must confront evil!”
    “You want to bomb them?”
    “I’m not saying we have to bomb anyone. Just confront them!”

    Sean Hannity is such an entertaining fellow.

  2. “Donahue denounces the war and our government without rejecting America in its entirety. I realize this is unsexy to the far left, where “patriotism” may as well be a Swastika”

    great post, and totally agree with your statement. I am quite left of center and do not reject America in its entirety.

  3. I’m glad to see Donahue is back and speaking out. I always admired him. Looking forward to his film, Body of War. Last week I saw Stop Loss. I recommend it also. It got tepid reviews, but is a mighty powerful antiwar statement–well acted and directed. Damn near broke my heart.

  4. I realize this is unsexy to the far left, where “patriotism” may as well be a Swastika.

    Lookit: I am about as left as it comes, and I take a back seat to no one on patriotism. I still cry at the Star Spangled Banner, fer chrissakes.



  5. Excellent post. Still, I am frustrated with “country bumpkins” who have that fear and loathing of anything with the slightest whiff of left-leaning agitprop. There’s a big difference between stupidity and ignorance, and I’m bothered by people who won’t acknowledge that we Americans could learn well from the ghosts in our closet.

  6. did you see Donahue smack down Tucker on Dan Abrams last Mondayu
    i will get it and post it

    i have always like Donahue and I have always had a crush on Marlo Thomas — since That Girl

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