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Patriotism has always been a dangerous term. It's often used by decidedly unpatriotic people claiming the mantle of "true American" to designate people whom they dislike as un-American. Witness Joe McCarthy, or the anti-immigration wingnuts, or Bush's post-9/11 surge in approval (if you didn't support the war, you were against the troops, remember?).

The last true patriots were probably those who came of age in the 1940s, the so-called "Greatest Generation." These men and women fought, sacrificed and died during World War II. My grandfather, a GI, spent the war in Iran-don't ask me why. He was a patriot. He left his true love, my grandmother, at home in New York City, hoping she'd wait. She did. She too was a patriot.

Today, we face something just as daunting as a world war-the prospect of global economic disaster, brought on by deep-seated greed among those with their hands on market levers. But I don't see a whole lot of patriotism going on.

In 2009, what should we define as patriotic? This shouldn't be something left to talk show hosts and political hacks to decide for us. Some people even questioned our president's patriotism on the campaign trail because he didn't have a flag pin on his lapel.

Let's develop a list of questions to ask a true patriot. The answers will determine whether we land on the patriot or "other" side. It can be a joint effort. Feel free to add your own online and get a conversation started. But if I could administer a patriot litmus test, this is what it might look like:

Did you trade in risky assets, nearly bring down a finance industry, then think it was OK to take a million-dollar plus bonus? Yes = Not a patriot.

Did you sign up to serve in the armed forces, assuming that commanders would not put you in harm's way unless it served the American people? Yes = Patriot.

Were you the architect of the Iraq War who puffed up intelligence on WMDs that you knew was probably bogus? Bonus question: Did you then, as a private citizen, have the gall to accuse a president in office for two months of making the country less secure? Yes = Not a patriot. Stay under your rock, Dick.

Did you vote in the last election, and did you spend a couple of hours figuring out how to vote? Yes = Patriot. No = Register, please.

Did you call for a spending freeze in the middle of Great Depression II just for ideological reasons? Yes = Not a patriot.

Are you using satire to get people to pay attention to politics? Yes = Patriot. Thank you, Stephon Colstewart.

Do you spend at least 10 percent of your time and money volunteering? Yes = Patriot.

Are you Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter? Yes = Not a patriot.

Did you compromise the identity of an undercover CIA agent, then lie about doing so? Then bitch about the designated scapegoat getting jail time? Yes = Not a patriot.

Do you believe everyone should get some kind of post-high school education? Yes = Patriot.

Did you eavesdrop on Americans who committed no crime but who have the wrong last name? Yes = Not a patriot.

How did you do? You may have figured out that any patriotism litmus test is slanted by the person who wrote it, this one included. Maybe we need a definition completely set apart from any moral issues, personal preferences or judgments. Back in the day-like the 18th century day-the patriots were those who simply wanted to fight for self-government, while the Tories or loyalists were perfectly happy to suck up to a monarch. We can all be patriots, no matter which side of the partisan aisle we're on, if we simply root for all Americans to succeed and for our government to work for us, as the original patriots did. In the coming years, that doesn't mean we have to hold Obama up to be a political messiah who can do no wrong. It does mean that we need to root for him to succeed, even if we vehemently disagree with his policies. It does mean that we should review his policies with the eye of reason, rather than ideology.

The true anti-patriots, in my book, are those who are so rigid in their chosen political stance that they must backbite, criticize and pounce on any slip of the tongue, or any slight failing of people in the administration. I call upon them to join the debate, rather than play the bitter gadfly. If they lose that debate, then put on the uniform, shut up and storm the beaches with the rest of us.


Give Josh the more-than-one-finger salute at [email protected]

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