For a while now, Will and I have had discussions about how the right has hijacked the notion of patriotism so that liberals are regarded as treasonous malcontents. And liberals look down their noses at patriotic gestures, because, well, that must mean you’re one of them. Will’s been wanting to put a flag sticker on the bumper of his little VW (next to the Obama sticker) as a small gesture of reclaiming national pride (it hasn’t happened because he can’t find one anywhere). This week, Slate has run a two-part feature that does a wonderful job of summarizing the patriotic divide:

Since the end of World War II, the conservative version of patriotism that the Republicans have championed has rested upon a steadfast protectiveness of American values in the face of enemies—proven through a muscular, nationalistic military posture. Impatient with critical perspectives, conservative patriotism advocates an unhesitant participation in collective rituals like waving the flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and even public prayer. McCain, who is fluent with words like valor and sacrifice, firmly belongs to this tradition.

Postwar liberalism has defined love of country differently. It calls for candidly identifying what’s wrong with America in order to improve it. It tends to regard collective gestures like the Pledge of Allegiance as hollow, tokenistic, and even potentially coercive—and thus antithetical to the individualism that lets free thought flourish. To conservative patriotism’s semper fidelis, liberal patriotism counters with e pluribus unum.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was honestly baffled at the backlash against Michelle Obama’s remarks about finally being proud of her country. When I read her comments, I did a little inward cheer: “Me too!” I view my country sort of like I view my family–I often disagree with it, it sometimes makes me cringe, but I still love it and believe in its inherent worth and would certainly never abandon it. Dissent is what makes me proud to be American–blind acceptance and nationalism is best left to military dictatorships.