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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The bands played, the confetti flew and the pundits pronounced on Bill Clinton’s folksy wonkiness, Jennifer Granholm’s YouTube-ready theatrics and President Obama’s “workmanlike” acceptance speech. I’m consumed, however, by the less-expected star turns by understudies at last week’s Democratic National Convention.

I was inspired anew by Tammy Duckworth, the Iraqi vet who lost both legs in combat but is now running for Congress. I was cheered by vice-presidential spouse Jill Biden, who reminded her audience that she still teaches school because the job fulfills her. And I was profoundly moved by Gabby Giffords, who made a gutsy appearance to lead the Pledge of Allegiance on the final night.

I teared up before Giffords began to form her first word. Assisted by her close friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the National Democratic Committee, the former congresswoman walked across the stage with a slow and awkward yet determined gait. Her entrance illuminated her slow, agonizing and halting recovery from a lunatic’s bullet to her brain in January 2011.

As she spoke, her words occasionally slurring, her face was focused yet beaming. It was the most powerful Pledge of Allegiance I’ve ever witnessed — made more so by her unflinching loyalty to a nation in whose service she was fatefully wounded. In an era of unabashed cynicism toward politicians and hearty skepticism toward the very notion of public service, she was a stirring reminder of the enduring power of unselfish citizenship and genuine patriotism.

And, yes, I meant “patriotism.”

This is an age of showy but insubstantial affectations of love of country — of flag-waving, medal-counting and boastful, heedless pronouncements of American “exceptionalism.” The most hawkish of arm-chair generals (John McCain, excepted) are those least likely to have actually served in uniform, and the binding thread of democracy — a notion of the common good — is being cut to shreds by the demented hyper-individualism of an egomaniac named Ayn Rand.