Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama Wraps Himself in the Flag, Fights For A Piece of the Patriotism Franchise

That Barack Obama felt compelled to give a speech today on patriotism speaks volumes about the lousy state of political discourse in the U.S. That few minds will be changed although the speech was a noble effort is a fact of life for this African-American with a foreign-sounding middle name and an opposition with toxic intentions. That there are so many real issues crying out for attention in this deeply troubled land as the July 4th holiday draws near and he feels the need to wrap himself in the flag is disheartening.

What Obama sought to do at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri was redefine our archaic and platitude driven views of what constitutes patriotism by telling his own story in much the same way he did in a March speech on race and religion in Philadelphia prompted by the damage his problematic relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was causing.

That controversy has passed, but defusing the issue of his patriotic bona fides will not be easy with so many rumor and fear mongers and the willingness of John McCain to lend a hand.

Look for Obama to tell and retell the story he shared today of a multiracial and multicultural upbringing, of a heartfelt love of country that is not based on being a war hero or even a veteran, but on living the American dream through overcoming a childhood lived in poverty to excel in academia, community service and politics -- and that stories like his can only happen here.

Wresting a piece of the patriotic franchise from conservatives who believe that only they are entitled to it will be difficult. Additionally, Obama is trying to be dispassionate yet passionate about a subject where emotion is an easy substitute for substance and trying to redress wrongs is akin to being unpatriotic.

The conclusion of his speech:
"[I]t was the most famous son of Independence, Harry S Truman, who sat in the White House during his final days in office and said in his Farewell Address: 'When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task . . . But through it all, through all the years I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware that I did not really work alone -- that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people helped with their support.'

"In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my mind -- not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this country -- its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements -- all result from the energy and imagination of the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor and quiet heroism.

"That is the liberty we defend -- the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek -- not an equality of results, but the change of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build -- one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America's happy and secular creed."
Oh, and by the way, Obama was wearing an American flag lapel pin.

More here on the speech and here for the full text.

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