The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans don’t own ‘patriotism’

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore speaks during a rally for the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School on Aug. 25 in Rockville. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Democrats are standing firmly on their values and beliefs to set glass-house Republicans straight. And, as the kids these days say, I’m here for it. Rather than cede the flag and love of country or shrink from the so-called culture wars, Democrats rhetorically are punching back forcefully and unapologetically.

“Patriotism” is the word reclaimed by Wes Moore, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor. He did it during a recent meeting with The Post's Editorial Board at which he plotted the future of the Democratic Party.

“We have to take back this mantra of patriotism. I am absolutely exhausted by the idea of getting lectured by Republicans on patriotism,” said Moore, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. “My definition of patriotism was leaving my family and putting on the uniform of this country and defending her with paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, and I’m literally running against somebody whose definition of patriotism was putting on a baseball cap and asking people to join him on January 6.”

Moore’s opponent is Maryland House of Delegates member Daniel L. Cox. Not only did the far-right Republican charter buses to take him and supporters of President Donald Trump to Washington that awful day, but he also tweeted during the violent insurrection that “Pence is a traitor.” Nothing says patriotism like aligning with the crowd wanting to hang the vice president because he wouldn’t go along with an unconstitutional effort to overturn a free and fair election.

Follow Jonathan Capehart's opinionsFollow

Moore is not alone in pushing back against Republicans. Earlier this year, after being called a “groomer” by a Republican colleague, Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow delivered a tour de force response that immediately went viral. “I want every child to feel seen, heard and supported,” McMorrow said, “not marginalized and targeted if they are not straight, white and Christian.” McMorrow — who is straight, white and Christian — also used her speech to snatch back the narratives of “Christian” and “family” values that have been used against Democrats for decades.

Out gay Missouri state Rep. Ian Mackey (D) and Alabama state Rep. Neil Rafferty (D), the only gay member of that legislature, have upbraided Republican colleagues for bills targeting transgender children. Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D) has formed a PAC to go after “beatable bigots everywhere.”

Jonathan Capehart: Don’t let Mallory McMorrow fight bigotry alone

But the OG of GOP clapbacks is California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). When I talked with him in February, he said Democrats must “address these things a little bit more head on, a little bit more forcefully.” And since then, he has made it clear that he doesn’t just mean with words. He means with actions, too.

This month, Newsom bought billboards in what he calls seven “anti-freedom” red states to tout California as a place that “will defend your right to make decisions about your own health.” In July, he ran full-page ads in Texas newspapers that went after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on abortion and guns, writing, “If Texas can ban abortion and endanger lives, California can ban deadly weapons of war and save lives.” Newsom also targeted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 30-second television ads in which he declared, “Freedom is under attack by Republican leaders in states like Florida.”

That ad against DeSantis is an especially cheeky troll because it’s paid for by “Newsom for Governor 2022.” This, of course, has led to rampant speculation that Newsom is angling to run for president should the opportunity present itself. So what if he is? His actions also have the benefit of being rooted in his core beliefs about the promise of this nation and the power of government to help the people eager to fulfill it.

Wes Moore’s South Carolina-born grandfather, the Rev. Dr. James Thomas, was one of them. Thomas was 6 years old when his Jamaican immigrant parents fled back to the island to escape the Ku Klux Klan. Moore said his great-grandfather pledged never to return to the United States. But Moore’s grandfather eventually did come back. “My grandfather in all of his humility said this country would be incomplete” without him, Moore recounted.

How essentially American. That’s why Moore won’t cede “patriotism” to Republicans. The GOP will probably try to snatch it back, but Democrats shouldn’t let them. Instead, they ought to follow their colleagues’ examples and keep getting bolder in defending their values, defining what it really means to be American and standing up for all the people striving to make the country complete.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to Capehart, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast

Loading...