06 March 2011

Patriotism or Propaganda?

We're hearing a lot these days about how the Tea Party is intentionally distorting history for political gain, etc, etc. Fellow blogger and friend, Michael Aubrecht, has been a rather vocal critic and posted some additional criticism recently. (See here and here.) I don't believe its any secret that Michael and I are at polar opposites on the TP. We've been able to keep our disagreement divorced from our friendship. I trust that will continue. That being said, my criticism on his position (and others who hold similar views and have expressed similar criticisms) will be spirited and pointed.

My response to Michael's two posts will also be in two parts. This first post will respond specifically to Michael's contention that the Tea Party's Coloring Book for children is "propaganda." Dictionary.com defines propaganda as . . .

1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
3. the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.

These basic definitions could be applied to just about any organization that puts out a message, publishes a newsletter or a book, runs an ad, or communicates with the public in any way, shape, manner, or form. Of course, the term more often carries a negative connotation, i.e., the spreading of half-truths, pushing a harmful agenda, slanderous rumors pertaining to one's opposition or opponent, etc.

That Michael would use this pejorative term when referring to a child's coloring book that simply promotes good citizenship, patriotism, faith, and pride in our country is quite perplexing to me - particularly when it is parents and grandparents who will be making the decision as whether to purchase the book or not. It is, and should be, they who determine "age appropriateness" though I can't see how anyone could object to what's in the coloring book - based on what you'll see below. Michael writes as if his discovery that the coloring book is intended for "preschool and early primary years" is some kind of damning "gotcha" revelation. So what? It is my opinion that Michael is letting his dislike for the Tea Party cloud his judgment. The Tea Party is non-partisan, and educational. You can read more about the organization here. You can read their mission statement here. The TP is not a political party. The TP is organized as a 501(c)(4) non-profit. Their non-profit status is the same as your local Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs. Ironically enough, the TP refers to themselves as a "social welfare" organization.

I had read/heard similar criticisms from the likes of the Washington Post, CNBC, and other leftist "news" organizations. But I was quite surprised to hear what I believe to be a baseless attack coming from Michael. So I decided to contact the TP directly to ask for a copy so that I could review it and see if it was as "dangerous" as some had suggested. I was unable to get my hands on a complete copy (my local Books A Million was sold out of them), but the publisher was kind enough to send me some sample pages. Let's take a look at these pages and see if there's anything that would warrant being called propaganda (click on any of the images to enlarge):

This is page two of the coloring book. It features a few lines of God Bless America by Irving Berlin. Not exactly what I'd view as subversive or "propaganda." After these verses is a very brief explanation of the capitol building.

Next we have page 12 which features a crossword puzzle meant to teach basic facts about the American flag. Following this is the Pledge of Allegiance and some admonitions about proper respect for our nation's flag.

Here, again we have a page featuring the American flag with a few lines from America the Beautiful - a patriotic hymn my public grade school class sang every morning, along with My Country Tis Of Thee. Below this is a brief synopsis of the Tea Party's mission statement. You can read the words and judge for yourself, but they are benign and fundamental. I doubt there is much there to which many would object. These are certainly the types of basic American principles and values that I was taught in school and which were reinforced in most civic organizations. 

In this page sample is a blank letter for a young person to use to write his congressman, senator, or the president. This would teach young people that they have the right guaranteed by the constitution "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." When I was in the 6th grade, our class wrote a letter to our congressman. I have absolutely no recollection what the subject was, but I do recall writing him.

Finally, we have this sample page which prominently features the Liberyt Bell. The text surrounding the image is a basic explanation of American liberties and freedoms, i.e., "freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom to protest, freedom from government control of our lives, freedom of political choice . . ." Also included is this admonition:

"With liberty also comes the responsibility to be a good citizen. To educate yourself and attend school, be good in class, to work and pay your bills, pay your taxes when you grow up, and to help others when you can. Many American soldiers have died to guarantee that liberties remain part of American life. We have the best liberties in the world."

Would anyone really object to such generic admonitions of good citizenship, personal responsibility, care for your fellow man, and patriotism being encouraged in children? What could possibly be wrong with that? When I went to school, these things were a given. Regardless of whether a person was a Republican, a Democrat, or an Indpendent, I cannot think of one adult that I knew growing up who would have any objection to anything printed or represented on these five sample pages. Now, perhaps, the publisher intentionally sent me the most benign pages. But if this is representative of what's in the Tea Party coloring book, then I fully intend to purchase copies for every one of my grandchildren that are in this age group.

The type of information seen in these sample pages is really nothing unique. I can think of a number of examples that teach similar values to children - some in public schools. The one that immediately comes to mind is an organization my wife and I were involved in when we were homeschooling our children - 4-H clubs. We founded and led a club. One of the things the club attempted to instill into children was basic concepts of responsibility and good citizenship. Yes, the book also teaches readers about the organization as well and in a positive light. So? Don't ALL similar organizations do that? It is important to point out that this is a voluntary organization and the publication is not forced on anyone. If you don't want your children taught these things, then don't buy it.

So why would anyone refer to this is as propaganda? Michael seems to suggest that because this  book involved history and basic American values presented in an affirmative way, and since it's intended for children, that this somehow makes it inappropriate. But these types of books for children are extremely common. President Obama has written one. According to the Mount Vernon book store, the President's book is ". . .  a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation. President Obama sees the artistry of Georgia O’Keefe, the courage of Jackie Robinson, and the patriotism of George Washington within his own children and within all of America’s children. It is a celebration of the characteristics that unite all Americans."

Is his also "propaganda?" After all, he's the head of the Democratic Party. What's the difference? If "gaffs" are the issue, I don't think we need to go there. But wait, there's more. Mount Vernon also offers a coloring book. The description reads in part:

"Artist Peter F. Copeland captures the outstanding events in the life of revered American, George Washington . . . "

Would Michael and other critics suggest using the word "revered" when writing about Washington, and directing the book to children, is "propaganda?" Isn't that teaching them "what to think" about our first President? Mount Vernon also sells a book for children titles Why America Is Free. It was published by "The Society of the Cincinnati . . . so that Americans will know how to preserve their freedom." This is teaching children "what to think." The descripton also suggests an "agenda" does it not? But it is an agenda that most Americans have, historically, agreed upon.

My point is simply this when it comes to this coloring book: There is nothing unusual about an organization reaching out to youth to instill positive values. It is not even unusual for political organizations to do this. Both political parties do it. All civic organizations do it to one extent or another. And, again, these coloring books are purchased by private individuals - parents, grandparents, etc - who wish to instill these values in their children. No different than going to their local Christian bookstore to buy a Bible story book about Noah and the flood or Daniel and the Lion's Den. Is that also propaganda? Are vacation Bible schools, Sunday schools and other youth ministries propaganda? It's really nobody's business (other than parents) since these are all voluntary choices and associations.

Which brings me to my final point. Real propaganda. What is especially troubling to me about Michael's post (and other similar opinions) is the lacking sense of proportion, balance, and parity. Once again, no one purchasing the TP coloring book is forced to do so. No one is forcing someone else's children to be taught these values and principles against their will or without their knowledge. No taxpayer money is funding this publication.

But that's not true with what were seeing in many public, taxpayer funded schools and publications. As Glenn Beck's (yes, I know) website has pointed out, we do have some REAL historical distortion being taught to children in a captive audience setting with taxpayer money. Did you know that the preamble to the constitution meant the following:

Click to enlarge and read.

People’s basic needs must be met in a country. Needs for housing, education, transportation and health care, overseen by our government system.

"When did the Preamble or the Constitution include the government meeting the people’s needs for housing, transportation and health care?" - The Blaze.com

Would anyone care to defend this? Where's the criticism on this - from anyone other than that "crazy conspiracy theorist" Beck? This twisted view of our constitution is being taught as a function of government by "professionals." If ANYONE is to be held to a higher standard, as Michael suggests, the focus should not be a volunteer, citizen-organized patriotic organization, but government teachers who are paid with tax dollars. They are supposed to professionals and "nation builders", aren't they? What kind of nation are these folks building?

The TP book for children is, based on what I've seen, nothing more than good old-fashioned patriotism and basic American values being taught to children. The course reference above, in contrast, is pure agenda-driven, socialist dogma being force-fed to children in government schools. (Just more anecdotal evidence to be stacked on that ever-growing pile.)

Referring to a child's coloring book, which has the main focus of instilling in young children the bedrock foundations of our republic - freedom, faith, and liberty - is, frankly, quite troubling to me. Moreover, the modern notion that children should be taught in a moral vacuum so that they "can make their own choices" and they should not be taught "what to think" is absurd on its face. Do we refrain in teaching them "what to think" about murder, stealing, lying, etc? Do we refrain to teach them the values of hard work, learning, good manners, etc.? There is (or perhaps once was) a basic American creed that the vast majority, regardless of political or religious loyalties, could ascribe to.

The American's Creed
by William Tyler Page
I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.
–Written 1917, accepted by the United States House of Representatives on April 3, 1918.

I recall learning this creed in my elementary school years. Have we now become so beguiled by political correctness and burdened with guilt over societal pressure to be ashamed of our nation's history that teaching young children positive values about their country is propaganda? Is the American Creed, which is not much different than what the TP coloring book is teaching, no longer appropriate for young school children?

This is what we've come to in the United States. A truly grassroots, patriotic organization comprised of every day common citizens (including teachers, by the way) is met with unfair and ignorant criticisms, vitriol, and even death threats for promoting, - albeit imperfectly at times - patriotism, personal responsibility, good citizenship, and our founding principles while many of these same critics ignore the real subversives and dangers to our Republic.

Dear God Almighty.

(Some will no doubt think this is overkill to Michael's post. Perhaps it is, but this has been building for some time and was motivated by comments and things I've read and seen on other blogs, and in the media, beyond what Michael has posted. Also, it may appear I rambled a bit and even repeated myself. I may even be guilty of a few gaffs. I plead insanity. My wife and I have had 3 of our granddaughters (ages 3-5) since yesterday afternoon. I've been attempting to compose this in between refereeing fights, judging squabbles, distributing Cracker Jacks, wiping noses, cleaning messes and indoctrinating them all with positive American values.)


Michael Lynch said...

I don't really see anything objectionable on these sample pages, other than repeating the Betsy Ross tale as undisputed fact and putting Hawaii's admission in 1960. Certainly not anything I'd call propaganda. But that's just me.


13thBama said...

It is called propaganda by the left because they cant afford for children to see the U.S. in a positive light. If those children learn to love THIS America, then they will stand up and fight when it is being destroyed and replaced with the left's version of America (Amerika - the USSA).

Michael Aubrecht said...

Nice rebbuttal my friend. I just wanted to add that, as the parent of four, I am against the political indoctrination of young children by ANY organization.

As I said, I raise my kids as Christians with hope that they will make the right decisions, but I would never steer them towards any particular political party. As they become old enough to understand the issues they can then decide to become Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians etc.

According to the Tea Party's website this coloring book "introduces children to the Tea Party Patriots' core values and how they can become involved in preserving the liberty our Founding Fathers enshrined for We the People." They say that this coloring book is quote: "Designed as a Teaching and Learning Tool for pre-schoolers to early primary stages."

The examples you site may seem harmless but that's way too young IMO to push politics of any kind.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael. First of all, as my post indicates, I don't see this as political indoctrination - with the exception of what's being taught in some public schools as indicated in the post. My view is that this is little more than teaching very fundamental American values and patriotism. Furthermore, I never said anything about steering them toward any particular political party - those are your words, not mine.

I do believe its proper to teach one's children correct philosophical views in politics. They are MY children. I want them to embrace my values, my God, my worldview and, yes, my fundamental philosophy on the proper role of government. I find it odd that any parent would want otherwise. For example, if I saw my child embracing an oppressive political ideology like communism, I'd do my best to intervene. Are you saying you'd simply stand by and let them make their own decision without counsel and guidance?

Once again, they are teaching/promoting fundamental American patriotism and values, not endorsing any particular party. There's nothing in these sample pages that I wasn't taught in public school.

So you would object to the Mount Vernon publications as well?

Michael Aubrecht said...

My post has nothing to do with how we present America. My gripe is against any political party’s “teaching tool” that is aimed at pre-schoolers.

You are wrong when you say that “Once again, they are teaching/promoting fundamental American patriotism and values, not endorsing any particular party.” Your example has Tea Party rhetoric on the “Freedom, Liberty, Faith” page. I don’t see the mention of any other political parties or theologies. And the fact that this is available on their website where it says: “It Introduces children to the Tea Party Patriots' core values and how they can become involved in preserving the liberty our Founding Fathers enshrined for We the People” sounds like a recruiting/endorsement to me.

You are OK with it because you agree with their views. IF the book was not in support of your views what would you think? What if it was a coloring book from the Communist Party geared toward preschoolers instead? Would that change your mind?

Regardless of the party, or theology, I’m against the whole concept. My little ones have enough growing to do without me thrusting the complex world of politics on them. When they are of age to understand, they can make their own decisions. If I did a good job as a parent, they’ll make the right ones.

Honestly I don’t care what political affiliations my kids choose as that is only a small piece of their being and doesn’t make or break them as individuals. If one of them was a communist or anarchist etc. I wouldn’t care or love them any less. And I would respect them more as they would have made that choice on their own after weighing the options. In other words, I wouldn’t have made that decision for them.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

My gripe is against any political party"

The TP is not a political party.

“It Introduces children to the Tea Party Patriots' core values and how they can become involved in preserving the liberty our Founding Fathers enshrined for We the People” sounds like a recruiting/endorsement to me."

So what? I don't accept your premise that this is wrong.

"You are OK with it because you agree with their views. IF the book was not in support of your views what would you think?

I am ok with it because its basic, fundamental, core American values 101. Very basic - again, nothing I wasn't taught in elementary school.

"What if it was a coloring book from the Communist Party geared toward preschoolers instead? Would that change your mind?"

I can't believe you're asking that question. Of course it would change my mind, since our Constitutional Republic is diametrically opposed in law and principle to communism. I'm quite amazed at your position Michael.

Michael Aubrecht said...

I kindly want to ask 13th Bama what exactly is “THIS America”? And whatever that is, why is that the only “right America?” That goes in direct conflict with the original intent of this nation which was to have liberty and freedom for ALL. That means leftists,” “right-wingers”, Tea Partiers, Communists, etc. Yes, even people whose beliefs are the polar opposite of ours. That’s the whole point isn’t it? I would also like to ask what exact events have transpired that threaten to turn America into Russia (as you posted). Name 3 things that have transpired, or you feel will transpire, and then correlate them with Russia. I didn’t get that comment. Thanks.

Michael Aubrecht said...

Richard, I think the biggest difference in our position’s on this subject is how much value we place on politics in our family's lives. It is obviously a much bigger issue to you than me. We don’t even discuss politics in my house. The coloring book was really an extension of a much larger gripe against the TP, so I feel that we may be losing focus here. It goes along as part of the entire movement. Your next post I believe will address my whole rant so I will wait until then to reply any further. Thank you. I enjoy our spirited discussion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael. Iron sharpeneth iron. Actually, I intentionally focused on your characterizing the coloring book as "propaganda."

I'm leaving the country next Saturday for 7 days - nothing to do w/this debate ;o) - and I'm trying to prepare for that trip. I may get to the post prior to departure, I may not. But I will eventually post it. It, too, should be quite spirited.

Michael Aubrecht said...

Richard I was able to draw some more quotes out of the book and wanted to see if you agree that these were in fact politically-motivated:

“The Tea Party calls upon our representatives to limit the government's role in everyday life, and to support people and businesses, but not demand from, control or over tax the people or businesses.”

“When the government does not do its job properly we may have a Tea Party and fire or replace the people that run the government.”

"Freedom of Choice and Economics, the ability to choose your job in America's free market."

"Good Health Care for All Americans, not restricted by federal or state governments."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

“The Tea Party calls upon our representatives to limit the government's role in everyday life, and to support people and businesses, but not demand from, control or over tax the people or businesses.”

I believe that is perfectly in line with much of what the Founders wrote and believed. It is simply restating what many of them said. A couple of examples:

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government."
-- Patrick Henry

and . . .

"Let no more be said about the confidence of men, but bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution".
-- Thomas Jefferson

What in the TP statement would contradict these statements by Henry and Jefferson and others?
I could easily cite scores more that would express the exact sympathies.

“When the government does not do its job properly we may have a Tea Party and fire or replace the people that run the government.”

The 1776 version:

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government." -- Declaration of Independence

"Freedom of Choice and Economics, the ability to choose your job in America's free market."

The Madison version:

"He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them." -- James Madison writing in Federalist No. 10

"Good Health Care for All Americans, not restricted by federal or state governments."

I really don't know where to start on this one . . . the antithesis would read:

"Good Health Care for All Americans, should be restricted by federal or state governments."

I can't, off the top of my head, think of anything the Founders wrote that would directly address that TP quote. However, I can't imagine them thinking the Federal government would ever WANT to restrict good healthcare for all - kinda counter-productive isn't it?

You're really losing me on this whole debate Michael. The more you write, the more confused I am over your reasoning and position.

Now, I have a challenge for you. Using these same TP statements, find something applicable that the Founders wrote or believed that would contradict the statements.

michael Aubrecht said...

You're missing my point completely. You said there wasn't political theology in the book. That it was just good old fashioned patriotism. Those quotes are all theological beliefs of the TP presented as facts.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Come on Michael - I'm speaking of partisan politics - endorsing of a particular party, candidate, etc. Yes, there could be a fine line here, but our Founding era was intensely political in a generic sense. Do you really think you can discuss our Founding documents w/out discussing fundamental political philosophy? What in the TP statements, so far referenced, contradicts, philosophically, our Founding documents?

For you to be consistent, you would have to favor banning all teaching of American history to young children. How could you possibly discuss the Declaration of Independence or Patrick Henry's Give Me Liberty speech in a vacuum? These founding principles are what formed our Nation - why are they so controversial?

Moreover, as I've said repeatedly, this is not a school textbook. If anyone purchases this, its because they want THEIR child or grandchild taught these fundamental American values.

michael Aubrecht said...

Again you are looking at this as if I disagree with all of those statements. I agree with most of them. And I'm aware of the Founders intent. My point has, is, and will be that politics presented to little kids in this manner is disturbing. I don't care what political party puts a coloring book like this out. Its intended to teach preschoolers about the Tea Partys quote, core values. I think we just need to agree to disagree but please don't misunderstand. There are items in this book that I agree with I just believe it to he age-inappropriate.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes, we will agree to disagree but, for the 3rd or 4th time, the TP is not a political party. What is disturbing to me is someone thinking it is wrong to introduce children to positive core values of our Founding era and, at the same time, instill in them pride in their country.

13thBama said...

...what exactly is “THIS America”?

A: a capitalist, free market based America

...even people whose beliefs are the polar opposite of ours.

A: Yes, its that way now, but let it turn socialist and see if it remains that way.

...events have transpired that threaten to turn America into Russia (as you posted). Name 3 things that have transpired, or you feel will transpire, and then correlate them with Russia.

A: The pending collapse of the American dollar, bankruptcy of the American government and nationalization of anything the present administration can get their hands on

Chaps said...


You may not be interested in politics but politicians are very definitely interested in you.

David Rhoads said...

This one strikes me as kind of dubious:

"Good Health Care for All Americans, not restricted by federal or state governments."

I don't believe the Founders thought in terms of "Health Care" at all. I suspect this item is in the coloring book only because of the recent debate on health insurance legislation and as such is indeed an expression of partisan politics. Moreover, if it's supposed to be a "positive core value" it's kind of oddly phrased. Does it mean "Good Health Care for all Americans" is a general right? That doesn't exactly square with what I've heard from Tea Partiers. Or is it just an oblique and somewhat disingenuous way of saying that federal and state governments should have no role in the delivery of health care at all, i.e., that restrictions on health care should be the province only of private insurance companies and dependent entirely on a given individual's financial status?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

David -
"Good Health Care for All Americans, not restricted by federal or state governments."

I don't know what, if anything accompanied that statement.

But my guess is that it simply means choice w/out interference - choosing your own Dr., not being forced to purchase health insurance, etc.

Dick Stanley said...

Strange argument. Pre-schoolers in Texas, at least where my young (now 11 yo) son did his, learned the pledge of allegiance to the flag, which they did every morning. They all colored pictures of the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross, etc.

That continued in K through, now, 5th grade where they also have been studying the American revolution, in one form or another. I don't believe they have talked about the Constitution yet.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Dick - yes, I find Michael's argument very strange and w/out merit. What I also find curious is how the critics of the TP's "history errors" can't seem to bring themselves to criticize Obama and all the garbage going on in public schools when it comes to distorting history. As I noted previously, the TP's efforts are privately funded, not so w/the government entities. There's absolutely no sense of parity in Michael's criticism.