COLUMN: Critical patriotism: OK to insult the president? The VP?
American protests against our government are a longstanding tradition. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, public rage against the Bush adminisration literally spilled over the flood-damaged walls and fences of New Orleans.
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing "critical patriotism."
QUICK: What’s your impression of Joe Biden?
In a single word, what describes your impression of him?
The most frequently used word is “good,” according to a Research Center survey. “Idiot” is the second most frequent. Other negative names include “incompetent” and “clown.” Overall, 38 percent of people used negative words to describe Biden, about 23 percent used positive words, and 39 percent used neutral terms.
Is it okay to call our nation’s vice president, president — or any elected official — by derogatory terms like “idiot”? Of course, it’s an exercise of free speech, so it is permissible under that rationale. And, in this situation, the name-calling respondents were hidden behind the survey’s cloak of anonymity, so there was no accountability.
But I’m sure some Americans wouldn’t hesitate to call Biden an idiot — to his face. And there would be no reprisal for doing so (aside from possible hurt feelings). That’s because Americans are free to criticize their government and officials. Many do so not out of malice but out of love of country and the desire to have them live up to our ideals.
This is called critical patriotism, a kind of tough love of country.
What do Americans say — in a single word — about President Obama? “Good” and “trying” are the most frequently cited words. “Failure” and “incompetent” are the most frequently cited negative words. The numbers of Americans who use positive versus negative words to describe Obama are evenly split — there are few who use neutral descriptors.
Romney and Ryan haven’t escaped Pew’s one-word test. The most commonly used words for Romney are “honest,” “businessman,” and “rich”— but overall, more negative terms are used than positive. The most frequently used words for Ryan are “conservative,” “intelligent,” “good,” “unknown,” and “young.”
What's your one-word description of Biden — or Obama, Romney, or Ryan?
Is it okay to use derogatory terms like "idiot?"
What are the boundaries for criticizing our government?
Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook.