n. Love of and devotion to one's country.

Samuel Johnson famously pronounced "patriotism...the last refuge of a scoundrel." While one might impute a number of possible meanings to that famous saying (the 1775 context for the assertion is not extant), modern skeptics of American history and government oftentimes interpret this observation as a general caution against extreme patriotism.

The other day I entered into a discussion with a Progressive friend who professed a profound admiration for his country.

Why is America great?

What engendered feelings of national pride in his heart?

1. America FINALLY recognized the equal rights of all its citizens regardless of race.

2. America FINALLY recognized the worth of its female citizens, although, he was quick to add, we could not bring ourselves to put this development in writing (ERA).

3. America FINALLY stood up to defend the rights of African Americans, ninety-odd years after initially according those rights.

4. America FINALLY seemed to be stepping forward to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS in less fortunate parts of the world.

My reaction: those are all good things, no doubt--but I could not shake the sense that they were also condemnations in the guise of faint praise. They all struck me as a bit grudging and back-handed. The rhythmic "FINALLY" seemed to me gratuitously ubiquitous.

Was he saying America was a pretty crumby country while we allowed slavery? Were we a pretty lousy nation for the ninety-nine years after outlawing slavery in which African Americans faced egregious discrimination?

Granted, slavery, racism, and sexism were (and are) bad things--but do the American blemishes overshadow the triumphs?

If I were going to tell our story, I think I would begin with the great and positive impact the United States of America made on the history of the world--and, then, for some balance, I would talk about some of the ways in which we fell short of our own aspirations. But I might also note that we often judge the American past against present standards, which, ironically, would not be the accepted benchmarks of civility and equality--if not for the United States of America.

My point: to lead with our flaws may be factual, strictly speaking, but it is also misleading. This is not the way we would introduce a friend or a loved one. Generally, in our relationships with people we like, we do not dwell on the very worst aspect of their personalities.

We don't say: "This is my colleague. He is a recovering alcoholic." It may be true and an impoprtant component of who he is--but, if this is a friend whom we admire, that part of his life taken alone does not accurately convey his story.

America, right or wrong.

My Progressive friend also took a moment to inveigh against the notion of "America, right or wrong," which he construed as a simplistic statement of blind and unquestioning allegiance to US policies and actions.

I have long wondered at this interpretation of that particular expression of support. Do people consciously misconstrue this straightforward and heartfelt expression of patriotism? I know my friend to be a person of good will and sincerity, so I will accept his construction as an honest difference of opinion, but what is so offensive about a pledge of unconditional love for the United States of America? Why do some listeners always seem to hear that phrase with such radical ears?

Would he have trouble with this statement?

"My wife, right or wrong."

Would you necessarily assume that I am asserting that my wife is always right? Or wouldn't you more rationally assume that I am saying that my wife is right sometimes and wrong sometimes (and I reserve the right to debate those matters with her privately)--but I support her (especially in public) regardless. Why? Because she is my wife, and I love her unconditionally. I have made a vow before God and man to love her in sickness and in health.

I love America unconditionally. I love America when George Bush is president. I love America when Bill Clinton is president. I will love America when Barack Obama is president. I often disagree with the policies of my government, and I reserve the right to debate those policies within our system of self government--but I continue to love America.

Unconditional love does not mean blind faith and unquestioning allegiance, but an unconditional love is definitely part of "the bonds of affection" and the "mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land," which, spoken of long ago, continues to unify and uplift.

May God Bless America.