Obama Defends Patriotism Before VFW « The Washington Independent
ORLANDO, Fla.–When people ask me when the tenor of this election changed, I point to late July when Sen. Barack Obama toured Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe, while his rival, Sen. John McCain angrily remained stateside, under the shadow of press darkness. Then McCain unveiled a line that has become part of his stump speech, where he brashly declared, "It seems to me Sen. Obama would rather lose a war to win a campaign."
Since then Obama has done his best to diffuse these comments which struck directly at his patriotism as well as his ability to lead. And while it might seem silly that we question McCain’s motives, the depths of Obama’s patriotism have been questioned time and again. But, as I’ve written several times, the fact that we question Obama’s patriotism while McCain–a genuine American military hero–go unchallenged means that we are still very much a country and a people coming to grips about what it means to serve our country. It has been nearly 50 years since John F. Kennedy challenged the U.S. to do more to improve its standing in the world and then created the Peace Corps as a new way to fulfill one’s national duty. And yet we still view the act of war as something more important, more elemental attribute in those who lead our country.
And while Obama has, for the most part, shrugged off McCain’s attack, it was here, at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, where he gave his most stinging rebuke to date.
"I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition," Obama told the some-3,000 people assembled at the convention center. "I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America’s national interest. Now, it’s time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same."
"Let me be clear," Obama continued, "I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America – you served the United States of America."
At the risk of sounding, well, like a candidate, when Obama spoke I was reminded of the words of a veteran I met in North Dakota in the days leading up to July 4. His name is Bill Anderson, and during his own service in Vietnam, he was left legally blind–a reaction to the anti-malaria drugs he and his fellow soldiers were given. Today he is still unable to read.
“There is more to patriotism than a lapel pin or an American legion cap on your head,” Anderson told me. “Patriotism is holding onto and advancing the ideals of liberty and justice. Just because you didn’t serve in the military doesn’t mean you’re not a patriot. And just because you did serve doesn’t make you a patriot."
As much as anything, this election has turned into a referendum on service and we will be left to judge which we value more. Will we choose the man who risked his life in combat and endured unspeakable acts of torture in the line of duty? Or will we choose a man who shunned a life in corporate and lucrative law to serve the under-served on the South Side of Chicago? The candidates have given us their patriotic credentials. Now it’s our turn to decide which set we value in the next leader of the free countries of the Earth.