Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating the love between a man and a woman — or a man and a man, a woman and a woman, whichever your poison. But after spending the past weekend gouging out my wallet in the pursuit of material representations of love for my girlfriend, I think I’ve just about had enough of that kind of love. So instead, I’m going to dedicate this column space to the often-neglected love between a citizen and his country. This is better known as patriotism.

What we often associate with patriotism now is the sort of blind patriotism that has infected this country since 9/11. This is the kind of patriotism that leads you to believe that if you put an American flag decal on your SUV, you’re somehow absolved from making your country a better place. If you can sing the national anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, shop at Wal-Mart, hate the terrorists and eat an entire bucket of fried chicken while watching the Super Bowl, then doggone it, you’ve done your part. This sort of blind patriotism puts the unconditional love into the relationship but none of the responsibility.

Al Franken said it best: “Conservatives love America like a child loves his mommy, and mommy can do no wrong. Whereas [liberals] love America like an adult loves someone… always working to appreciate what’s there, being critical of what’s wrong and trying to help and make it better.” Of course, Franken is generalizing. But within Franken’s sweeping partisan generalization lies a more poignant point – what ever happened to trying to help make America better? What happened to loving – and I mean really loving – America?

Some people seem to think making America better means turning back the clock some 50-odd years, back to the day when it was thought that giving someone a hand job would not only get you pregnant but would probably cause your head to explode. Others want to rewind even further, back to when corporations could treat workers like indentured servants and get away with it, all in the name of the almighty buck.

While the right loves to wax nostalgic on what a great country America was before the supposed excesses of the 1960s, I say that if we want to know real and genuine patriotism, we should look even further back, back to the era before the Civil War, back to the idea of civic republicanism. Civic republicanism was the crazy idea that it was a citizen’s duty to set aside personal interest for the common good – the good of the nation. Needless to say, today’s Republican Party is hardly loyal to the concept that is their namesake. Our relationship with our country has regressed into a relationship of neglect and abuse. Instead of “what you can do for your country,” it has become “what you can do for yourself.”

If you want examples, all you need to do is look around. While war rages on in the Middle East, this is the first time in American history that the American people have not been asked to make sacrifices. The Bush administration has chosen not to pay for the wars it starts. Instead, it puts it on a credit card, and not only that, it cuts taxes for the richest of us. The message is clear: We don’t need to pay for this war; our children can. In addition to that, families of dead veterans of the war in Iraq are paid a paltry $11,000, barely a subsistence annual living, and attempts to raise these benefits are routinely blocked by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his cronies.

Only in America could you pretend to wear a flag on your lapel in “solidarity” with the troops all the while working against their interests. Every Hummer you see represents more oil money being funneled to Middle Eastern regimes that hate us, all because some jackass thinks it’s cool to drive a car that gets seven miles to the gallon. We live in a society where it’s OK to give multinational corporations welfare but not provide basic health care necessities to our very own citizens.

Citizenship means more than the obligation to spend and consume. It’s time to ask ourselves what we can do for our country after we’re done waving the flag.

Neil Visalvanich is a Daily Nexus columnist.