Patriotism, defined as a dedication to one's country and loyalty to the principles for which it stands, vastly transcends most other manifestations of pride.
Pride in a local sports team, alma mater, or even occupation may mean a great deal to an individual, but it is ultimately the bond between a person and his or her country that the most has been sacrificed for, both in terms of cost and life.
The rank and file of the intellectual left is no doubt puzzled by such a dynamic. There is no logic, their argument goes, in killing and dying for a country that you were merely born into.
For these individuals, a country is little more than a piece of land and to tether one's identity and livelihood with it is purely nonsensical.
What the perpetrators of such misconceptions fail to fully realize, however, is that patriotism is man's way of adhering to and defending values larger then himself and his narrow sphere of influence.
Patriotism represents a loyalty not to land or national borders but instead a steadfast adherence to a set of principles that are greater than an individual person.
Recently, some have tried to claim that values and human rights can be divorced from one another, that in some blatantly biased representation of the political right, conservatives seek to perpetuate a value system that excludes many, while the left somehow nobly defends essential human rights.
Yet in the rush to portray the conservative right maliciously, the indelible influence values have on our conception of human rights is tossed aside.
The harsh reality, at least for the left, is that what Americans uphold as fundamental human rights, such as free speech, habeas corpus, democratic elections and so on, stem from a distinctly western value system that was developed over time by political theorists.
Part of what fuels the concept of American exceptionalism is the recognition that prior to the founding, the idea of a modern democratic-republic that afforded its citizens such rights was seen as outlandish and purely theoretical.
It was a willingness to believe that such rights were essential and fundamental to the human condition, in essence an adherence to the rightness of a particular value system over any other, that enabled men like Jefferson and Madison to shape the core documents of our nation.
All this is by way of explaining that what we understand as human rights, as Americans, is shaped profoundly by our communal values. We can no more separate the two concepts than we can the moon from the stars.
To be sure, values can and do change over time, but others are fixed and essential. To be American means having a willingness to adhere to the rule of law, to position democracy as the best form of government and to revere the principles enshrined in our Constitution.
To be a proud American is to recognize, embrace and uphold the belief that such values are distinctly American. Whatever status these values hold in the world now as fundamental human rights, it is because of the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to privilege them above competing notions about the human experience.
Where would democracy and the rights enshrined in the Constitution be without the United States as force to uphold them in the world?
When John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "Let every nation know...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty," he was underscoring a national commitment to very particular values.
The belief that these values and our notion of human rights could be seen as one and the same speaks to the success of the American experiment with democracy. And yes, despite the anti-American vitriol so sadly typical in left-wing dogma, that is an achievement all Americans can be proud of.
Given all this, then, it comes as little surprise that for so many generations of Americans, the left's argument that "dissent is patriotic" rings hollow. While dissent may not necessarily be unpatriotic, the claim that a refutation of American values and principles is indeed patriotic wholly ignores what American patriotism means in the first place.
The willingness of an individual to identify with American values and embrace them, not reject them, is at the core of what American patriotism is about.
Slandering the modern Conservative movement (which, incidentally, has been defined by Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, etc. and not Sarah Palin) as the reason why the left is viewed as unpatriotic is a tired, empty complaint.
If the left wants a reason for why so few Americans view them or their ideology as unpatriotic, they need to only read democrat Jeane Kirkpatrick's speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention.
Time and again, the left will find any way and any means to "blame America first" even when doing so is blatantly unfair.
The left's never-ending need to highlight what is wrong with America as opposed to celebrating what is right with it exemplifies the left's seeming contempt for the American dream and way of life.
To be sure, such a characterization of the left wing in American politics might indeed be unfair. Many leftists genuinely want to see the United States embrace a vision and value system in line with their own world view and there is nothing wrong with such a goal.
Most Americans, however, recognize America's position as a force for good in the world and are proud of it. They don't seek to change the American value system because they embrace it and see it as a part of themselves.
Rather than blame conservatives, if the left wants to change the public's perception of themselves as unpatriotic, they should first learn what American patriotism means in the first place.