Two views of patriotism

The U.S. presidential election presents a sharp contrast between two types of patriotism: John McCain stands as a war hero. His rival Barack Obama calls Americans back to the can-do spirit of the nation’s founders.

In November the candidates will find out which style appealed more to voters in this time of war and economic uncertainty.

Democratic candidate Obama has made patriotism a core theme of his campaign, seeking to inspire voters to overcome divisions of race and party and using his own story as a child of a Kenyan father and Kansas mother as an example of opportunities available only in America.

But on the campaign trail, audiences also applaud Republican McCain’s tales of his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam which embody qualities he seeks to project as a candidate.

As a Navy pilot, McCain was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. He was stabbed, beaten, tortured and imprisoned for more than five years, including two years in solitary confinement.

The appeal of that biography was apparent last Saturday in televised interviews with each candidate by a leading pastor, Rick Warren, at his megachurch in California.

Asked to describe the hardest decision he had ever made, Obama talked about his decision to oppose the Iraq war.

McCain recounted how he had decided to refuse early repatriation from a Hanoi prison even though he was injured, because he did not want to jump the line — a story that visibly resonated with the audience.

Nothing in Obama’s life story can match those experiences and they reinforce McCain’s slogan of "Country First," said Richard Kohn, professor of history at the University of North Carolina.

"For McCain, not only does it (patriotism) arise from his very being, his identity, but it plays a dual role of emphasizing a national security part of the campaign and the contrast between him and Obama," he said.

McCain retired from the Navy in 1981 and entered politics. He stresses his war years in questioning Obama’s foreign policy credentials and readiness to be commander-in-chief.

For his part, Obama praises McCain’s patriotic service but has made unswerving opposition to the Iraq war a pillar of his campaign and vows to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.


Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, an island far from the U.S. mainland. As a result, he could be vulnerable to the charge that his background and values are unfamiliar.

One possible method of exploiting this emerged last week in a memo by campaign strategist Mark Penn for one-time Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, which suggested she could defeat Obama by running an explicitly patriotic campaign.

Obama should be presented as someone not "fundamentally American," said the memo in advice Clinton did not adopt.

In an apparent bid to overcome any skepticism about his background and values, the Democratic party will showcase Obama’s life story at its convention in Denver next week, starting with a speech by his wife Michelle on opening night.

"He’s going to demonstrate love of country by word and deed at the convention," said Democratic strategist Mark Mellman.

"It’s not something that you repeat: ‘I am patriot’. There are no specific patriotic activities. It’s got to come across at an authentic and sincere way," Mellman said.

Obama would be the country’s first black president and as such faces an extra hurdle as he attempts to persuade voters.

"There is a historic suspicion that African Americans are less patriotic," Kohn said.

Black Americans have fought in all the country’s wars but their loyalty has been questioned because many black leaders have criticized U.S. policies on race and some whites assume historic discrimination against them, which includes slavery, would have undermined their commitment to U.S. ideals.

"Conservative whites look at them (blacks) as unpatriotic and yet if you look at the constitution and the history, the black community has been trying to make that constitution work for everybody," said Ronald Walters, professor of politics and government at the University of Maryland.

Walters contrasted what he called "bumper sticker patriotism" with what he said was a struggle many African Americans had engaged in to make the country a real democracy.

Nowhere is McCain’s war hero status shown more clearly than in his bond with veterans, a group held in higher public esteem in the United States than in most other Western countries.

But Peter Melendez, a combat instructor recently retired from the U.S. army after 22 years, said that even for veterans McCain’s status should not necessarily be a decisive factor.

"He has been in combat and I have been in combat but just because he is a military man running for office doesn’t mean he has the right to run the country," Melendez said.


  1. Carl Nemo

    I marvel at how people elevate Senator McCain having spent 5.5 years as a POW to “hero” status.

    We could then extrapolate that any of America’s currently incarcerated 2.2 million prisoners doing time in our modern version of former sovietski gulags across AmeriKa as such upon their release to society. Many are doing downtime for simple possession of drugs with the greater majority being blacks and Mexicans. Shouldn’t they be classed as heroes too upon their release? Hey, they too survived their downtime. : |

    McCain was executing bombing runs that were killing innocent women and children; therefore making him a “war criminal” by North Vietnam’s standards and existing International Law. There’s a difference between collateral damage as opposed to intentionally targeting civilians. He’s even admitted as such.
    “I am a war criminal; I bombed innocent women and children”. ~ John McCain stated on 60 Minutes in 1997
    This guy wasn’t a Steve McQueen as in the “Great Escape” nor is there any record of him doing anything extraordinary to protect or defend his fellow prisoners putting his life at hazard.

    The truth of the matter is that his records have been sealed for 50 years because he was a “dud” by POW standards and there’s a lot of dirty laundry that would be made public in the event they do become public…!

    Where are the needed information leaks when we the people sorely need such information on these MSM indemnified heroes?

    I thought I’d provide one of the best links available about Senator McCain the “hero”.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. bryan mcclellan

    No real patriot would have been as obstructionist on the floor of the Senate as McCain has when it comes to veterans issues.

    From his treatment of the POW families to his taking credit for Senator Jim Webbs fine bill to help the real heroes, we get a clear picture of John/Songbird/McCain and his quest for notoriety.

    He emanates the mantra; I’m the Big Shot around here because I say so. HACK!

  3. Wayne K Dolik

    I would like to know why McCain had his war records sealed for 50 years. That would make interesting reading. 20 hours over Vietnam, shot down and given 28 metals, mostly for getting shot down. Crashed 5 aircraft? And, graduated near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. But father was an Admrial.

  4. Belle

    Thanks to the blogs above for stating facts that cannot be disputed. I too wonder why his records are sealed and the answer that always comes to me ,is that he is hiding one hell of a lot from this country he so eagerly wants to ‘serve’.( my definition of serve here is screw ) Anyone as constantly proud of what he ‘did in the war;’ should be more than happy to open up the whole thing and let us see his REAL actions during that period, The guards did not call him songbird for nothing. I gag every time he opens his mouth about it all, he has the mindset of a child. who got praised for being a good boy one day, and talks about it the rest of his life At 72 years old surely somthing that qualifies him for president should have happened to the tired old boy…let’s hear anout that…being a POW does NOT qualify him for anything but bragging about it. Why can’t we let THAT part fade away as so many other POWs have.. I would LOVE to hear some true facts from other POWS at that time, if any of the old boys are still alive. Where are they? Come on guys let’s hear it from you all.

  5. buckethead

    I am left nearly speechless by all of the above. I am able to only add what a dear freind of mine told me concerning “Songbird”. He was unlucky, that’s all. my friend was a prisoner of the Pathet Lao and escaped. His war was the type that cannot be mentioned or bragged about like the good senator’s.

  6. PlacitasRoy

    McCain can’t be a patriot- I’ve seen him without his Flag pin way too many times.

    Just because McCain was raised to be a warmonger, went off to fulfill that role does not make him qualified to be president nor necessarily even a patriot. It makes him a warmonger and a jingoistic nationalist.

    I’ve upped my standards….now up yours! – Pat Paulson