I accept this definition of (American) patriotism: an optimistic civic creed that demonstrates respect for America's institutions, individual freedoms, and constitutional law. Given that definition, dissent is not necessarily patriotic, airing national dirty laundry for the world to see is most assuredly not patriotic, and bad-mouthing your country is not patriotic. I've long lacked a good definition of patriotism; what was always missing was the optimism component.
Patriotism is contrasted with nationalism, which, simply put, can be described as "My country, right or wrong." Too many lefties don't understand genuine patriotism and mistake what patriotism they do see as mere nationalism, which often can rightly be scorned.
And yes, given what passes as the mainstream of leftie thought these days, including Daily Kos (fawned over by the Democrat presidential candidates) and Huffington Post, I state categorically that they're lacking in patriotism. They're lacking not only optimism, but also respect for America's institutions, personal freedoms, and constitutional law. Using foul language and being angry and wanting your guys in charge instead of my guys is not patriotic; rather, it's closer to a puerile temper tantrum.
You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "He's not my president" from 1993-2001. You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "I love my country but I fear my government" from 1993-2001. You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "1-20-01, a new beginning" from 1993-2001, even though we did look forward to that day.
Being against President Bush doesn't make you patriotic. Instead, what you display is a perverse inverse of nationalism, "Your guy is always wrong" instead of "My country is always right".
It's not a thought process that serves anyone well.
Update, 10/6/07: My one commenter so far has likened patriotism to marriage. Here's a comparison to parenting.
I know two really bad parents. One is a couple that simply refuses to control their children; they love them totally, and so, they explain, they love everything they do. Unsurprisingly, they are raising two little monsters. The other is a single mother who explains that everything bad in her life is the fault of her child, and that everything he does is wrong. Unsurprisingly, her child is depressed, withdrawn and equally badly damaged.
I'll define patriotism as 'love of country'. Both the parents above (all three of them, actually) claim to 'love' their children. But to blindly smile and clean up when your child smashes plates on the floor is not an act of love. And blindly smiling and waving flags when your country does something wrong is not an act of patriotism.
But - there is a point where criticism, even offered in the guise of love, moves past the point of correction and to the point of destruction. It's a subtle line, but it exists. And my friend (who is less of a friend because I can't begin to deal with her fundamentally abusive parenting) is destroying her child. And there are liberals who have adopted an uncritically critical view of America. Who believe it to have been founded in genocide and theft, made wealthy on slave labor and mercantilist expropriation, to be a destroyer of minorities, women, the environment and ultimately they argue, itself.
I'm sorry but their profession of love for America is as hollow to me as that [bad] mother's profession of love for her son. Are those things true? As facts, they are an incomplete account of this country's history. As a worldview, they are destructive and self-consuming.
Update #2, 10/6/07: And here's some thought on the "dissent is patriotic" front.
The "dissent" school seems to acknowledge love not of the actual country, but the Country of the Future, once all the flaws are fixed, which is not only utopian but utterly quixotic, since no group of human beings can ever organize themselves in a fashion without problems. Moreover, it's a very subjective standard. You're dissenting on whatever the hell problem is your own hobby horse. Feminist A is upset about the state of women and is patriotically "dissenting"; Klansman B is upset about the state of white folk, and in his mind, he's equally patriotic in his "dissent".... [B]oth are equally ideological and neither is expressing a love of America qua America, but rather a love of what they think America should be.
Update #3, 10/7/07: Apparently, President Clinton would agree with me--and said as much in a graduation address at the University of Michigan in 1995.
I say to you, all of you, the members of the Class of 1995, there is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government. There is nothing heroic about turning your back on America, or ignoring your own responsibilities. If you want to preserve your own freedom, you must stand up for the freedom of others with whom you disagree. But you also must stand up for the rule of law. You cannot have one without the other.
He said more.
Let me remind you once again that our best days as a nation still lie before us. But we must not give in to fear or use the frustrations of the moment as an excuse to walk from the obligations of citizenship...Make the most of the opportunities and freedoms America has given to you. Be optimistic; be strong. (emphasis mine--Darren)
Who am I to argue with Bill Clinton's words? In this case, he was absolutely correct. And based on the number of times he was interrupted by applause, the audience at UM agreed with him as well.