LAST MONTH, President George W. Bush urged American schools to join in the "Pledge Across America," a nationwide, simultaneous recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Since then, the 31-word statement that the left has long considered offensive, antiquated, or contemptible has begun to resurface in classrooms where it once was banished or forgotten. As the country rediscovers its patriotism, the President has led the way in beating back the tired sensitivities of the left and resurrecting the notion of a professed national fidelity.
Of all places, Madison, Wisconsin one of the nation’s few remaining bastions of leftism was recently home to one of America’s most significant culture-war victories in the post-Sept. 11 world: the Madison School Board’s retreat from its ban on the pledge.
The controversy ensued when the Wisconsin state legislature passed a law requiring all schools to lead students in a daily recitation of the pledge or the national anthem. The Madison school board would have no part of it. Officials balked at the "under God" portion of the pledge, and complained that the "Star-Spangled Banner" was too militaristic for a community that hasn’t stopped giving peace a chance. So they passed a resolution banning the pledge and the sung version of the anthem in their schools. Only the wordless, instrumental form of the song would be permitted.
Much to their surprise, they were soon besieged with angry letters, e-mails, and telephone calls, more than 20,000 total. At an eight-hour meeting in an overflowing, 800-seat auditorium, they were berated by angry, flag-waving residents. At meeting’s end, they rescinded their ban on a 6–1 vote.
The pledge is back, and it’s not just in Madison.
Minnesota’s Rosemont-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, just outside of Minneapolis-St. Paul, has extended the daily recitation of the pledge, which had been limited to only elementary schools, to middle and high schools as well. In Pennsylvania, the state legislature has voted 200 to 1 to require that every classroom include a flag, and that students salute it daily with the pledge or the national anthem. This month, Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to make the pledge mandatory. A proposal working its way through the Indiana legislature would extend the rule statewide.
And, of course, the pledge is back in New York City, epicenter of the country’s patriotic renewal.
Some two weeks after Bush led Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a classroom of school kids in the pledgeand one week after "Pledge Across America"the New York City school board voted unanimously to require all schools to recite it daily. Technically, the board’s decision was redundant, as state law has mandated the pledge for decades. But city schools, like many others throughout the country, had long since ignored the mandate, and the board looked the other way. Many New York City classrooms today don’t even have a flag.
The demise of the pledge and classroom patriotism was no accident. Ever since left-wing America-hating came into vogue during the late 1960s, the left has frowned upon American patriotism as little more than illiterate jingoism. While multiculturalism encouraged the celebration of other cultures and nationalities, political correctness labeled the expression of pro-American sentiments as hurtful or offensive. The left began a systematic effort to disarm the country psychologically by sapping its pride and pushing an image popular with our enemies: America the Great Satan.
The Pledge of Allegiancewhich requires those reciting it to say that they are Americans first, that ours is a country under God, and that its principles are sacredbecame taboo. For radicals, refusing to stand for the pledge, or cynically mocking its claims to "liberty and justice for all," became an easy way to voice antipathy for the American experiment. While some school districts and many more individual teachers continued leading their classes in the daily patriotic exercise, many others stopped, especially at the high-school and junior-high levels.
The causes are varied. In some cases, schools simply gave up on saying the pledge for fear of attracting lawsuits from the likes of the ACLU. (Although constitutionally, as long as districts allow dissenters not to participate, they are on safe legal ground.) At secondary schools, high numbers of "socially conscious" teens often refused to stand. And many schools and teachers alike internalized the beliefpervasive in the teaching colleges that are largely dominated by the leftthat America is a hypocritical hotbed of racism, sexism, and oppression.
It’s a strange irony, given that the pledge’s original author was a socialist. In 1892, Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and a proponent of a nationalized, planned economy, crafted the statement for public-school kids to use in celebrating the quadricentennial anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. (How times have changed.)
Bellamy was both a patriot and a utopian. He loved America, even though he thought it fell short of his socialist vision as "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." The pledge was not necessarily a statement about America’s accomplishments, but his dream of its potential, and the goodness of its founding principles.
Future generations changed Bellamy’s language, but only slightly. In 1924, the American Legion successfully lobbied to replace Bellamy’s "I pledge allegiance to my flag" with "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America" to make sure that immigrant children knew exactly where their allegiances belonged. Then, in 1954, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, Congress inserted the words "under God" to draw a distinction between us and godless Soviet Communism.
That a nineteenth-century socialist could craft the words that a twenty-first century leftist would so despise speaks more than anything else to the shift that leftism has made in the last half-century. The country’s early socialists believed, wrongly but sincerely, that their philosophy was the logical extension of American ideals. Their descendants, however, witnessed the horrors of collectivism wherever it was tried, and saw how fundamentally at odds it was with Americanism. Forced to choose one or the other, they chose collectivism, renouncing America, the flag and the republic for which it stands.
Over the course of more than three decades, the pledge had slowly begun to disappear from the national vocabulary. But Bush, building on a resurgence in the country’s patriotisma resurgence for which he rightfully deserves much credithas put an end to all of that. He has helped to rescue the pledge from its politically correct exile.
An angry letter from the ACLU, or the complaints of "peace" protesters, once might have been sufficient to stifle the pledge, but not any more. There’s a newfound sense not only in the nation’s goodness, but also in the need to impart the message of its goodness to its children and its newcomers, for which a daily, voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a powerful tool.
In no small part, that shift owes itself to a president who not only recognized an opportunity to reclaim a critical piece of cultural terrain from the left, but who was bold enough to take it.