Standing in front of four American flags, Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech in the aptly named town of Independence, Mo., today in an attempt to reassure voters about his patriotism.
"At certain times over the last 16 months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged -- at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for," Obama told a crowd of about 1,000 at the Harry Truman Center in Missouri.
Wearing an American flag pin on the lapel of his suit, Obama said: "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine."
Obama has faced questions about his patriotism early on in the Democratic primaries for not wearing an American flag pin. Obama also came under fire last September for not holding his hand over his heart while singing the Star Spangled Banner at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa.
The Illinois Senator has recently taken to wearing an American flag pin on his lapel regularly. Today, Obama said the "question of who is -- or is not -- a patriot all too often poisons our political debates."
"I have come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail," Obama said. "Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for president."
Obama sparked a mini-controversy early in the campaign in October, 2007, when a reporter for an ABC affiliate asked Obama why he wasn't wearing a flag pin, which many other politicians wear.
"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama told the reporter at the time. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq 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.
Obama's answer met with outrage on right-wing radio talk shows and on cable news shows.
"Why do we wear pins?" host Sean Hannity asked his talk show audience at the time. "Because our country is under attack."
Today, Obama said "the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic," citing Thomas Jefferson who was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French.
"For me, as for most Americans, patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories," he said.
"As I got older, that gut instinct -- that America is the greatest country on earth -- would survive my growing awareness of our nation's imperfections: it's ongoing racial strife; the perversion of our political system laid bare during the Watergate hearings; the wrenching poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the hills of Appalachia," he said, "Not only because, in my mind, the joys of American life and culture, its vitality, its variety and its freedom, always outweighed its imperfections but because I learned that what makes America great has never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better."