PATRIOTISM GAMES OBAMA'S LOOMING MINEFIELD
By KIRSTEN POWERS
March 31, 2008 -- WHY does Condoleezza Rice hate America?
The secretary of state told an audience last Thursday that America has a "birth defect." She went so far as to criticize our nation's very founding, calling it "not a very pretty reality." See, we had slaves, and said Rice, "descendants of slaves did not get much of a head start, and I think you continue to see some of the effects of that."
Of course, Rice doesn't hate America. But her remarks were a lot like those that left Michelle Obama on the receiving end of a hurricane of recriminations from the patriotism police - who stand at the ready, poised to shout down any Democrat who suggests America is or ever has been anything less than perfect.
The outrage last week was over Mrs. Obama's comments to a group of college students that they should make an effort to take advantage of their diverse community rather than holding on to their "own stereotypes and misconceptions." She said that sometimes "you feel justified in your own ignorance. That's America."
This hardly seems any more damning that Rice's comment that America has a "birth defect" - that our nation is inherently flawed by the circumstances of its birth - yet in Obama's comments, conservatives saw more evidence for their case that she isn't a patriot.
They may sincerely believe that, or just see a political advantage. Either way, the "patriotism issue" lurks in the shadows for the Obama campaign.
When Mrs. Obama said earlier this year that her husband's campaign was the first time in her adult life that she felt really proud of America, a close African-American friend pointed out to me that her comment was rooted in race.
He said that, for so many black Americans, the prospect of all these white people turning out to vote for a black man was something that made them feel so proud to be an American. That many African-Americans - unlike so many of Obama's critics - share Rice's view that race is an issue "we still haven't resolved."
What we have here, in other words, is an intersection of race and patriotism - with Mrs Obama's comments that grow out of her experience as an African-American getting painted as unpatriotic.
Which is why it would be easy to confuse the political minefield the Obamas are traversing as being just about race.
When tapes emerged of the Obamas' pastor, the Rev. Jerimiah Wright, Sen. Obama's response was to give a brave and honest speech on race. What he missed was that much of the outcry was really about the anti-Americanism some saw in Wright's claim that 9/11 was America's fault and his now-famous cry, "God damn America," for treating its citizens as less than human.
This all is filtered through a long-running narrative about Democrats, conceived by Republicans and carried out with the acquiesence of the mainstream media.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush painted Michael Dukakis as insufficiently patriotic for his veto of a law requiring Massachusetts school teachers to lead pupils in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance (though the state's highest court had said the law was unconstitutional). A Republican senator accused Kitty Dukakis in a radio interview of burning an American flag, with no evidence. She vigorously denied it, but the seed of doubt had been planted.
Insert "flag pin" for "Pledge of Allegiance" and you get the idea. Late last year, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer boomed: "It involves patriotism and the American flag. Why has Barack Obama stopped wearing a lapel pin of the US flag?"
A lapel pin as a vital issue? Seriously?
Obama has also been falsely accused of being a secret Muslim and attending a Madrassa. His failure once to put his hand on his heart during the singing of the national anthem became another overdone flap.
All this seems ridiculous to many Democratic primary voters - but this week John McCain launched his first general-election campaign ad, playing up his military service and asking, "What must a president believe about us? About America?"
Call it a not-so-subtle heads-up of what the Obama campaign can expect in the future: "It's about the patriotism, stupid."
Kirsten Powers is a Fox News analyst.