The 2008 presidential candidates and their supporters should be asked not to question the patriotism of their opponents. Surely most of us prefer debate and discussion of the issues that confront us to a litmus test about whose blood runs more red, white and blue.
Leaders of many nations, including America, have used patriotism to persuade citizens of policies that are not always in their country's best interests. Hitler's deputy, Herman Goering, cynically observed: "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
And still we love America for opportunities that do not exist in such proportion in any other nation. A person who criticizes a particular policy does not necessarily love his country less than one who supports that policy. G.K. Chesterton said, "'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"
After 231 years, we still try to make wrong into right and cheer the right and the nation that makes change possible when we succeed. That's patriotism.