Monday, June 30, 2008

Barack Obama: Speech on Patriotism

Obama gave a speech today defending his patriotism. It's silly that anyone has even challenged it. He may not agree with the policies of our current government, but that isn't unpatriotic, it's dissent, "the highest form of patriotism" (Howard Zinn, not Thomas Jefferson).

From the Washington Post:
Obama Hits Back at Questions About His Patriotism

By Jonathan Weisman
INDEPENDENCE, MO. -- Dogged by persistent questions about his faith in God and country, Sen. Barack Obama today journeyed to Harry Truman's birthplace to lay out his vision of patriotism, conceding that he has learned in this campaign "the question of who is -- or is not -- a patriot all too often poisons our political debate."

"Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given, " Obama said. "It was how I was raised. It was what propelled me into public service. It it why I am running for president. And yet at times over the last 16 months, my patriotism [has been] challenged - at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for."

The address, at the Truman Memorial Building here, was an extraordinary one for a presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party just four months before election day. Obama has built his candidacy on the promise of change in a political year when the vast majority of Americans feel their nation is on the wrong track. But he has found himself tripping over one of the lowest hurdles a politician faces, the issue of his patriotism.

False assertions have persistently circulated online, claiming incorrectly that Obama will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, place his hand on his heart for the national anthem or wear an American flag pin on his lapel.

The Obama campaign this month erected a website, Fight The Smears, to combat these false claims about him, even posting videos of the senator from Illinois leading the Pledge of Allegiance as he opened a Senate session. But in some circles -- and especially among the white, working-class voters he has had the most difficulty with -- the beliefs have become ingrained, egged on by Internet videos such as one that pans over Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa with their hands over their hearts during the national anthem. In the video, Obama has his hands crossed in front of him. Another shows Obama's wife, Michelle, saying that for the first time, she is proud of her country.

Obama tried to take the offensive today, proclaiming that he "will not stand idly by" as his patriotism is questioned.

His speech put the issue in a sweeping historical perspective, speaking of charges that Thomas Jefferson had sold the nation out to the French and that John Adams was in cahoots with the British. He also questioned policies enacted in the name of patriotism, from Adams' Alien and Sedition Act, Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans.

"The use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic," Obama said. "Still, what is striking about today's patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s -- in arguments that go back 40 years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic."

Obama was quick to add that the civil rights and anti-war protesters did their part to bring those charges on -- and to make them stick, "by burning flags, by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world, and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day."

Obama tried to situate the issue of patriotism in his own, unusual biography, which took a child from Hawaii to Indonesia, from a home headed by a single mother to one led by grandparents, with both parents at times absent.

"For a young man of mixed race, without even a father's steadying hand, it is this essential American idea -- that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will -- that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans," he said. "That is why for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it's also loyalty to America's ideals, ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion."

Read the whole article.

Here is today's speech.

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