During an appearance in Philadelphia
last month, Hillary Clinton introduced a controversial couple as part of her
presidential campaign. She defended them as victims of smear attacks.
"Valerie and Joe have had their patriotism questioned," she insisted.
"They have been maligned as un-American because they believe that
President Bush was waging a preemptive war that was not in America's interests and now because we believe
our troops should not police Iraq's
Of course this wasn't true. Both Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson were accused
of being untruthful (and shameless self-promoters), not unpatriotic. Plame was
a CIA official who blamed the Bush White House for revealing her identity to
the media in retaliation against her husband. Wilson
claimed the president lied about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain uranium in Africa. Actually, Bush was correct. Saddam had sought
uranium in Africa. And Plame's identity had
been leaked not by vengeful Bush aides but by a State Department official who
was an Iraq
war skeptic like Plame and Wilson.
The episode had a familiar ring, the ring of patriotism paranoia. When
criticized for being soft or wrong on national security, Democrats routinely
respond that their patriotism is being questioned. In fact, they're rarely if
ever accused of being unpatriotic. But to the paranoid, that's immaterial.
John Kerry went so far in 2004 as to insist he knew how the Bush crowd would
respond even before he delivered a foreign policy speech. "I know what the
Bush apologists will say to this--that it is unpatriotic to question, to
criticize, or to call for change," he said. Of course, Bush and his allies
said nothing of the kind.
There's method in the Democrats' paranoia. They've figured out how to use it
to their advantage: Blame someone for calling you unpatriotic, and you may blow
off their legitimate criticism, even stigmatize them as smear artists, while
you're seen responding more in sorrow than in anger.
Now Barack Obama has picked up the I'm-being-called-unpatriotic theme.
Practically no one has questioned his patriotism, aside from a few bloggers and
a stray TV commentator or two. Nonetheless, he declared after the Texas and Ohio
primaries, "In this campaign, we will not stand for the politics that uses
religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon." A few weeks later, Obama
campaign manager David Plouffe chimed in: "Questioning patriotism is
something we don't think has a place in this campaign."
Obama has taken what he calls "the patriotism thing" a step
further. He's suggested the patriotism of his political opponents pales in
contrast with his "true patriotism." At least that was how he
explained his decision to remove his American flag lapel pin.
"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama
said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the
war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking
out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I
won't wear that pin on my chest." In effect, Obama turned the patriotism
issue on its head. If anyone was unpatriotic, it was his critics and foes,
certainly not Obama.
The patriotism issue has also spread to liberal
commentators. Kirsten Powers, writing in the New York Post, offered the
conventional (paranoid) wisdom among Democrats. Insinuations of a lack of patriotism
are what "the Obama campaign can expect in the future." It's the
Republican way of campaigning.
There's a difference--a significant one--between being falsely called
unpatriotic and having what Joe Klein of Time defines as a problem with
patriotism. "Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama
now," Klein wrote. Why? Not because of Republicans, but because the
Jeremiah Wright flap and Michelle Obama's comments and the flag pin incident
"have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is
'American' enough." Absent the "scurrilous undercurrent" bit and
Klein's silly notion that the "liberal message" is more patriotic
than the "innate" pessimism of conservatism, Klein is on to
And it's not just Obama who has a problem with patriotism.
"This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about
what's wrong with America
than what's right," Klein said. Blaming Republicans is not the cure,
especially since you've got to be paranoid to believe they're the problem in the