LORAIN, Ohio, Feb. 24, 2008 -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., defended himself from charges by conservatives that he isn't sufficiently patriotic, a theme developing in the Republican world that could tarnish the Democrat in the general election.
"There's always some nonsense going on in general elections," Obama told ABC News at a press availability in Lorain, Ohio. "If it wasn't this, it would be something else. I mean, as you will recall, first it was my name. Right? That was a problem. And then there was the Muslim e-mail thing and that stuff hasn't worked out so well. And now it's the patriotism thing."
Asked by ABC News how he could combat the accusations, Obama said, "The way I will respond to it is with the truth -- that I owe everything I am to this country. You will recall the reason I came to national attention was a speech in which I spoke of my love for this country."
Republicans have been stringing together events in the past year to paint Obama as unpatriotic:
A Time magazine photograph from an event in Iowa last summer showed Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with their hands on their hearts during the singing of the national anthem. Obama's hands were by his side.
Months later, Obama told an Iowa television station that he no longer wore an American flag lapel pin because it had become, in some ways, "a substitute for, I think, true patriotism."
Then last week Obama's wife Michelle told voters in Milwaukee, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change."
After that comment, Cindy McCain, the wife of presumed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told a crowd, "I have, and always will be, proud of my country."
As happened with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a conservative campaign may be emerging to tarnish Obama.
"The reason it hasn't been an issue so far is that we're still in the microcosm of the Democratic primary," Republican consultant Roger Stone told the Associated Press. "Many Americans will find the three things offensive. Barack Obama is out of the McGovern wing of the party, and he is part of the blame-America-first crowd."
Obama said today that, "The notion that I am disqualified because at one event I was signing the national anthem but failed to put my hand over my heart while I was singing, if that were the case that would disqualify about three fourths of people who have ever gone to a football game or a baseball game."
About his wife's comments in Wisconsin, Obama said, "I think she already clarified this. She was very clear about it. She simply misspoke. Because what she was referring to is this was the first time she'd been proud of politics in America. And that's true for a lot of folks who had been cynical and disenchanted. She spoke about how she'd been cynical of American politics for a very long time, but she's proud of how people are participating and involved in ways they haven't for a very long time."
On the American flag lapel pin, Obama said, "When we start getting into those definitions of patriotism, that's a debate I'm happy to have, because I will come right after them."
Obama said he would argue that the GOP is "a party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor that they needed or [sent] troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans benefits that these troops need when they come home, or [are] undermining our constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary.
"That is a debate that I am very happy to have," Obama added. "We'll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism."