Much has been made recently of Barack Obama's patriotism or lack thereof. The flag pin issue is the one most obviously about patriotism, but many of the other "electability" attacks are, at bottom, a suggestion that Obama doesn't really love America. After all, he's got a funny name, his preacher asks God to "damn America," he went to school at a "madrassa" in Indonesia, and he doesn't put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Seems to be a common thread here!
At first glance, it takes a lot of gall for anyone who has ever supported George W. Bush or Bill Clinton to attack anyones patriotism. After all, by the classical measure of patriotism--the willingness to die in battle for ones country--our last 2 presidents, who actively avoided combat while young, are certifiably unpatriotic. However, the folks worrying about Obama's patriotism seem oblivious to this irony.
So is the Obama patriotism issue just a cynical maneuver by opposing political campaigns? While it's certainly true that the political operatives are using this issue, in order to work, the issue has to resonate with real voters. So why is Obama vulnerable to this attack?
At the risk of being accused of "playing the race card," I'd say that the basic source of concerns about Obama's patriotism is white guilt. White people know, whether they acknowledge it or not, that African Americans have a long list of legitimate historical grievances against white America. They find it hard to believe, therefore, that blacks can love America in the same sense that whites do, notwithstanding the fact that blacks have lived in this land for 400 years and died in her service since before the United States was born. In other words, some whites feel like, "if somebody had treated me like we've treated them, I wouldn't love them."
I suspect that the patriotism issue will not go away during the general election campaign. The Obama campaign is addressing it by, essentially, affirming his patriotism, which is probably the only way to go in that context. But individual Obama supporters can and should, I think, confront friends and family members with the source of this concern in America's racial history.