Obama: Dissent does not make one unpatriotic

Barack Obama delivered another stirring address in Independence, Missouri a few days before the American independence day. In his speech, he defined what patriotism meant to him. So much of his speech is applicable even to Singapore and Singaporeans. Below are excerpts from his remarks. The full text of the speech can be found on at the Washington Post blog.


Dissent does not make one unpatriotic.

No party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism.

Patriotism starts as a gut instinct. My grandfather explaining to me that we could do anything we set our mind to do.

What makes America great is not its perfection, but the belief that it can be made better. Our revolution was waged for that belief. That we could be governed by laws, not men. That we could be equal in the eyes of those laws. That we could be free to say what we want, and assemble with whomever we want. And worship as we please. That we could pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help others pursue theirs.

Patriotism is not just loyalty to a place on a map or a particular people group. It is also loyalty to America’s ideals. Ideals for which anyone can sacrifice for, or defend.

Patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to a particular leader, or government or policy.

Mark Twain…once wrote: “Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals…But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country’s name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution – these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that – especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words.

Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.

true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.

It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give back to one’s community; that it is honorable to serve in the military; that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices heard.

And it is up to us to teach our children a lesson that those of us in politics too often forget: that patriotism involves not only defending this country against external threat, but also working constantly to make America a better place for future generations.

That is the liberty we defend – the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek – not an equality of results, but the chance of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build – one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America’s happy and singular creed.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

One thought on “Obama: Dissent does not make one unpatriotic”

  1. The Economist wrote an article of MM Lee’s slipup in court. The comments following that article was equally interesting, and i picked this one up.

    “Singapore may have a first world facade and lifestyle, but they still have third-world politics and govt thinking.”

    Our govt’s response to this would be predictable – “dont get involved in our domestic politics – we know whats best for Singapore – we have Asian values, and cannot apply western style democracy – foreign nations are trying to do us in.”

    Coming back to your blogpost, i’m just too cynical.

    our govt, esp MM Lee himself, cannot accept dissent or discourse. He’d rather threaten than have a good discussion.

    on the flip side, we have people with opposing views that also dont handle openness well. They gave us Hong Lim Park and they turn it into political, inflammatory playground that made the govt pull back on their promise.

    its a catch 22 and i dont see open, fair discourse on disagreements in politics, to happen anytime soon in my lifetime.


Comments are closed.