Like Obama's speech on race ,which he gave following the comments of Rev. Wright, Obama's speech on patriotism was reactionary and designed not to dismiss his critics baseless attacks but at defining his own idea of acceptable and patriotic actions.
Obama states early in his speech, "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign and I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." Shortly after Obama makes this declaration he states that much of the debate on today's patriotism can find roots in the culture wars of the 1960's. Obama states:
Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the '60s reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases the very idea of America itself, 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 equates the "counter-culture of the 60's" with flag burning, blaming America for the world's wrong doings, and not honoring veterans coming home from Vietnam. This simplistic view of this era does little to understand the different viewpoints during the decade and resorts to tactics used by right-wing factions in this country. The phrase "blaming America for all that is wrong in the world" or "the blame America crowd" has been used recently by several pundits in the media to attack dissenting voices. Obama, who earlier in the speech claims that he will not attack anyone's patriotism in this campaign, does just that by painting members of a dissenting counter-culture in blanket terms and by failing to give examples of what exactly makes up the views of the people who he feels are "blaming America" for all the world's problems. Obama also makes no mention of the illegalities of the Vietnam War nor does he take into account veterans own testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings which call into question the honor of some of those who served. Are the soldiers who testified to atrocities which were committed in Vietnam part of the "national shame that remains to this day"?
All too often, our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments, a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.
Obama's reference to the "general in Iraq" who was "accused of betrayal" refers to this ad run by MoveOn.org which criticized General David Petraeus for being a political General who would report findings favorable to the goals of the Bush Administration. There is no mention by Obama of the criminality of the Iraq War , but rather he equates the critique of Gen. Petraeus with the "counter-culture of the 60's" that he had already denounced. It is also noteworthy to remember that Congress passed a resolution denouncing MoveOn.org for running this ad and while Obama did not vote for the specific resolution, he did vote for a similar one to "strongly condemn all attacks on the honor, integrity and patriotism” of anyone in the United States armed forces."
Barack Obama's speech on patriotism was a reaction to the criticisms of the right and also served to put himself into a position that secured his support for the military while at the same time aligning himself with members of the right by denouncing the counter-culture of the 60's in simplistic terms. Barack Obama spoke about the sacrifice of those who served in Iraq, but failed to address that it was a forced sacrifice in an aggressive and illegal war. Obama praised the service of those who are fighting in Iraq "for a greater cause" but fails to address exactly what the cause is. This speech was an opportunity to have a deeper conversation about how patriotism can often obscure reality but instead the speech acted to echo baseless claims of the right and signal that he is in support of dissent, as long as it is the right kind of dissent.