Who's a Patriot?
I contend that politicians' (and others') patriotism isn't questioned enough. Indeed, what could be more important for Americans in selecting an individual for the most powerful job in the world than how that individual feels about America? And that is what patriotism is all about. Is what's best for America and Americans your #1 priority? If not, then I'd say your patriotism is in question.
Now honest people can obviously disagree over what's best for America. During the Vietnam War, patriotic Americans were convinced that the future of America depended on subduing the communist advance in Southeast Asia. Other patriots were convinced that fighting another country's war 8,000 miles away weakened America and we should get out. On the other hand, many openly sympathized with the communist insurgents and viewed the U.S. as an imperialist nation deserving of defeat. These people's patriotism was questionable, in my opinion - at least it did not appear that what was best for America informed their stand. Still others supported the war because it was profitable - these people obviously are not patriots.
Is George Bush a patriot? There's little to suggest he is. While his anger and determination after 9/11 gave us some hope, his invasion of Iraq in order to transform the Middle East is certainly questionable. The Iraq war was clearly misguided, but it's not even clear Bush's motivation was America's long term health. His determination to transcend national borders with our southern neighbor suggests he has wider loyalties than just to the United States as a political unit.
Another group of people who fail my patriotism test are free-market economists (who, along with Bush, are typically labeled as 'conservatives'). In particular, their constant trumpeting of free trade is hard to reconcile with keeping America's interests as their top prioriy. As academics, they would argue that patriotism would be an inappropriate concern - which is fine, but then you've got candidate McCain parroting their un-patriotic policy prescriptions. Shouldn't Barack Obama be questioning McCain's patriotism in supporting the bankrupting of America in favor of some academic theory that has the only obvious benefits of increased profits for importers and increased growth in other countries? Admittedly, Obama himself would have to be against free trade to pull this off, but he's got plenty of time to re-reverse himself on that one.
And why not question Obama's patriotism? Does he typically do or say anything suggests that the United States, as a nation, informs his worldview? In his two best-selling books does he give the impression that he is concerned about America's future and keeping it strong? Or does he instead pledge allegiance to the "principles" that America stands for, which usually gets translated into taking money from productive people to give to unproductive people (not necessarily un-patriotic in and of itself, but clearly not a "patriotic" concern). His original anti-Iraq war speech in 2002 probably has one of the most patriotic utterances I've heard from him:
"What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."But the rest of the speech is mostly a muddle of liberal boilerplate ("...to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression"). He's more concerned that we "make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people", i.e. terrorists.
On immigration, Obama clearly does not have the interest of America or Americans in mind when he announced his opposition to requiring new immigrants to have skills, rather than merely being related to an existing immigrant. Obama put the interests of non-citizens above those of American citizens as well as America's future. But of course McCain has is on very thin ice in attacking anyone for being too pro-immigrant.
McCain has been openly belligerent towards Iran's nuclear program, clearly preferring war over diplomacy. But whose interest is he serving here, America's or Israel's? It's hard to tell with McCain whether he understands that the security of Israel is not coterminous with the security of the United States. During the cold war, when the USSR was successfully courting Arab nations, this might have had some truth to it. Now, it's hard to see it. Nevertheless, we give Israel enormous support in arms and intelligence. But to go to war just because Israel feels threatened is really beyond the pale - yet it's hard to see any other basis for his militaristic stance. Unfortunately, Obama gave up any high ground on this issue with his shameless pandering before AIPAC earlier this month. Mickey Kaus discusses this general topic here.
Funny, it seems as though on every issue where one of the candidates is unpatriotic, the other doesn't fair much better. It kind of makes the no-questioning-patriotism pledge seem less like a high-minded clean-campaign pact than a cease-fire agreement.