When three-term El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke explains in a recent mega-viral clip why people who cheer football players kneeling during the National Anthem are no less patriotic than those who decry them, he’s slaking a familiar instinct: we crave affirmation of our beliefs, and those who provide it are rewarded. The allure of “evidence” that justifies what we wish were true makes the share button irresistible. Never mind that respecting our country’s flag and honoring its armed forces are obvious elements of patriotism. He casts them aside with the fling of a rangy arm, to the exultation of hundreds of thousands on social media.
O’Rourke’s talents— and he is talented— were on full display at the Houston town hall where the clip was recorded this month. He comes across as genuine, informed, and passionate about racial justice. Superficially, at least, he offers a seductive defense of athletes who kneel for the anthem and their supporters. But how exactly does he arrive there?
In defending the NFL protests, the Congressman spends a great deal of time recounting pivotal events in the Civil Rights Movement. He explains that much like our GIs in the Second World War, activists who engaged in peaceful, non-violent protests in the 1960s risked their lives in the name of freedom. He continues:
“The freedoms that we have were purchased not just by those in uniform—and they definitely were—but also by… peaceful, non-violent protests, including taking a knee at a football game.”
In other words, O’Rourke is willing to concede some of the credit for securing our liberties to the Marine who took a bullet in Okinawa, but only if an equal share is given to the professional athlete who takes a knee in Oakland.
Reasonable people may disagree as to whether the NFL protests are justified, but remember: these men are famous multi-millionaires with little at stake beyond the cost of a fine, or perhaps their exceptionally lucrative jobs. It takes a staggering audacity to equate them with young Americans who answered the call to leave their homes and families and travel to far-flung places to fight and, if need be, die for our country.
Leaving aside the comparison to military service only makes O’Rourke’s claim more baffling. Does he really believe we should accord to Colin Kaepernick the same honor as to those who endured beatings, imprisonment, and threats on their lives in the name of Civil Rights?
O’Rourke says he can think of “nothing more American” than to take a knee at a football game during the National Anthem. In his eyes, evidently, that action is at least as patriotic as the sacrifice of any soldier or the suffering of any activist in our nation’s history. If he is unwilling or unable to discern any difference, then he is unfit to serve in public office.
Moreover, O’Rourke is establishing a standard he may find uncomfortable. Here’s the gist of his argument: potentially offensive symbols should be judged by the intentions of those who promulgate and support them, not by how they are received. To millions of Americans, kneeling for the anthem is an unpatriotic expression of disrespect to the flag and our troops, but because Kaepernick and his defenders say this is intended as a civil rights protest, O’Rourke views it as patriotic.
But why stop there? There are plenty of visible instances of tendentious symbolism to which the O’Rourke standard could be applied. Take the fight over Confederate statues in public places. To millions of Americans, these are an unpatriotic expression of disrespect to those whose ancestors endured slavery. Yet the statues’ defenders retort that their preservation is intended solely to retain mementos of one of the most decisive events in our nation’s history. Is the Congressman willing to accept this apologia?
Apparently not. In a September 2017 interview, O’Rourke demanded that the monuments be removed because their presence “in a place of public honor sends the message that these are people whose actions we honor. That cannot stand.” For all his earnestness, it seems the principal imperative guiding the Congressman’s reaction to offensive symbols is whatever he thinks his voters want to hear.
In his remarks last month, Beto O’Rourke erected a rhetorical monument to those who kneel for the anthem, sending the message that these are people whose actions he honors according to a logical standard that he himself refuses to adhere to.
The people of Texas cannot allow that to stand.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.