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|July 3-9, 2008
Back to Letters
Is dissent patriotic?
by Paul Danish
Is dissent patriotic? Consider the case of Crystal Wosik. In 2005 Miss Wosik won the Miss Las Vegas and Miss Nevada beauty pageants and represented Nevada in the Miss America pageant held, coincidentally, in Las Vegas in February 2006.
Her 15 minutes of fame came not in the swimsuit, evening gown or talent competitions, but during her interview with the judges, who asked how she felt about the long-term storage of nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
“It has to go someplace,” she replied.
“And Yucca Mountain is the best built facility in the country,” she added with a touch of local pride.
“But aren’t you worried that people might die?” a judge asked.
In that case, she said, “We just have to take one for the team.”
Needless to say, Miss Wosik’s views on Yucca Mountain are not widely shared by Nevadans. Yucca Mountain is the mother of all NIMBY issues. Virtually everyone in Nevada from the governor on down is opposed to it. When it comes to nuclear waste, well, there aren’t very many people willing step up and take one for the team. Not in Nevada or anywhere else.
Therefore Miss Wosik’s views on Yucca Mountain can properly be characterized as “dissent.” Plain speaking, straight talking, in-your-face, all-American dissent.
Her views can also be characterized as “correct,” which is more than can be said for a lot of dissenters. America gets 20 percent of its electric power from nuclear reactors. The waste from those reactors has been piling up for the past 50 years, and, assuming the country is serious about wanting to reduce its carbon footprint, a lot more of it will be produced in the next 50. It has to go somewhere. That means that the inhabitants of Somewhere, USA, face a small but real risk of having to take one for the team.
Needless to say, Miss Wosik did not go on to become Miss America.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Miss Wosik has presented us with as beautiful an example of principled, patriotic dissent as we can ever hope to find.
Miss Wosik put the interest of her country ahead of the parochial interest of her state, and ahead of her own interest. She told the judges, and by extension, the People of Nevada and the American People, what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear — even though she must have known it would cost her the chance of a lifetime. In short, she took one for the team. Team America. If that isn’t patriotism, what is?
It’s no small irony that when the judges of the Miss America pageant came face-to-face with real American patriotism they didn’t recognize it. Maybe it’s because the phrase “taking one for the team” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor,” but it’s the same concept.
Jefferson and Franklin and all the signers of America’s first great statement of patriotic dissent — the one that defined both America’s founding principles and the core elements of American patriotism — would have immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Miss Nevada 2005. If they were watching the 2006 Miss America pageant up in patriot Valhalla, they are probably still laughing at the judges.
So is dissent patriotic? Case closed?
Uh, consider the case of Ward Churchill.
Churchill is a dissenter, alright. He’s devoted his entire life to sliming his country. His dissent is not offered in the spirit of making America a better place, or creating unity, or defending America’s core values — and it sure as hell isn’t an example of putting the country’s interest ahead of his own interest. His big dissenting idea is that the United States and the American People should perish from the face of the Earth.
He’s quite open about this. His post-9/11 essay, the one that contained the “little Eichmans” quote, also contained the phrase “U.S. off of planet Earth,” if memory serves. Whatever else he might be, Ward Churchill is no patriot, and he would be deeply offended if you called him one. When the roll is called up yonder, he’s more likely to receive an invitation to Benedict Arnold’s Fourth of July picnic than Benjamin Franklin’s. But he is a dissenter, by God. No doubt about that.
The point should be clear enough: Sometimes dissent is patriotic. Sometimes it isn’t. It depends on what you have to say. Content matters.
So, if you’re a dissenter, ask not, “Is dissent patriotic?” Ask whether you are patriotic.
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