Can Obama Turn New Yorkers Into Patriots?

Barack Obama’s presidential run has inspired an outpouring of enthusiasm and passion from all the predictable corners of New York City. From the stroller-pushers of the Upper West Side to the usually disaffected denizens of Williamsburg, leftward-tilting New Yorkers have for months now been hanging signs in their windows, holding bake sales in support of Mr. Obama and buying silk-screened T-shirts on Etsy with Mr. Obama’s likeness behind a pair of turntables. (“That’s My DJ,” the shirt proclaims.) If John McCain gets elected on Nov. 4, the city will just go back to the way it was before the campaign began—defining itself in no small way in opposition to a sort of amber-waves-of-grain patriotism defined by President Bush and his cowboy diplomacy.

But all signs are pointing to that not happening. And so what will happen to all of the enthusiasm for Mr. Obama’s candidacy? Will the signs just come down and the T-shirts get put away, to be worn only at the gym or to bed? Or is it possible that the election of Mr. Obama could, in some small or perhaps big way, herald a new era of ostentatiously good feeling toward the United States from a city that has long prided itself on being an island in a sea of red states. Could the most defiantly liberal quarters of New York suddenly turn loudly, obnoxiously … patriotic?

“When I was watching the Democratic National Convention this year, it was the first time that I didn’t cringe when thinking about patriotism,” said Anita Schillhorn van Veen, a 32-year-old manager of online programs at a suicide prevention nonprofit. “It was the first time that I could see thousands of American flags being waved and people being really excited and riled up, and not feel afraid. I think part of that is because the vision that Obama has of the United States, or at least the one presented there, was one that was like, O.K., we want to be a better country than we are now.”

Ms. Schillhorn van Veen, who lives in Prospect Heights and grew up in Michigan, is in electoral purgatory this campaign, however, since she is a Dutch citizen; though she has applied for U.S. citizenship, she will not get it in time to vote on Nov. 4. “I never felt represented by the government in a way that I would if Obama was elected,” she said. “He’s the first person I’ve seen that does reflect my generation and my values, my origin—he’s multicultural, he has an understanding of the world that’s very nuanced and not based on this America-is-always-good concept.”

There’s a commercial for the National Guard that started airing before movie previews in September, featuring Kid Rock singing a song called “Warrior,” with lyrics like:

So don’t tell me who’s wrong and right when liberty starts slipping away

And if you ain’t gonna fight, get out of the way

’Cause freedom ain’t so free when you breathe red, white and blue

I’m giving all of myself, how about you?


Can Obama Turn New Yorkers Into Patriots?