Breaking down Obama’s “new economic patriotism”

“It’s time for a new economic patriotism.”

President Obama, in a new two minute ad, describes his economic plan* with the sentence above. But calling it a “new” economic patriotism was unnecessary, as an old one never existed.

Patriotism is a love of one’s country. In America’s case, it is specifically the love of our unique culture that exalts individual freedom as a cause worth dying for, coupled with pride in our national experiment that proclaimed certain inalienable rights, declared all men equal, and reordered politics by stating government must be by, for, and of the people. To add a qualifying adjective to American patriotism is to so badly distort it that the phrase immediately becomes incoherent.

So why does Obama use the phrase?

Because the concept of “patriotism” resonates with people, and politicians prefer pleasant sounding slogans, even if they are forced to sacrifice accuracy. And to be fair, the man has made some progress in the last four years, as “economic patriotism”, for all its horrendous flaws, is still more specific than “hope” and “change”.

And Obama believes in the concept, which is the more upbeat cousin of his “you didn’t build that” comments. Both are calls for economic actors to more closely align themselves with the state’s interests. “You didn’t build that” used derision, whereas “economic patriotism”  leverages love of country, but both are meant to imply that the federal government has a right to redirect economic activity and co-opt businesses’ profits.

What phrase would have been more accurate?

If Obama had wanted to put an emphasis on accuracy, he would have called for the much creepier sounding “economic nationalism”. Or if he wanted to be even scarier and had read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, he could have used that phrase.

Semantics aside, what’s really wrong with the concept? Continue reading