"Suicide" might be strong, but the left certainly amputated itself from full-throated patriotic sentiment. Most Democrats speak mellifluously about unity but get tongue-tied or sound as if they're just delivering words plucked from a political consultant's memo when they talk of patriotism (Virginia Sen. Jim Webb being a major exception). Sen. John Kerry, who made his name vilifying the Vietnam War, suddenly wanted credit as a patriot for the same service when he ran for president in 2004. His opening line at the Democratic convention - "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty" - was cringe-inducing. The words came out as ironic, almost kitschy. The message seemed to be, "I can play this game better than that chickenhawk George W. Bush."
When Democrats do speak of patriotism, it is usually as a means of finding fault with Republicans, corporations or America itself. Hence the irony that questioning the patriotism of liberals is a grievous sin, but doing likewise to conservatives is fine. That's how then-candidate Howard Dean could, with a straight face, insist that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft "is no patriot. He's a direct descendant of Joseph McCarthy."
Indeed, the one area in which Obama explicitly invokes patriotism is in the realm of economics. He proposes a Patriot Corporation Act that he claims would reward corporations that keep jobs in the U.S. ("Now here is a Patriot Act everyone can get behind," gushed William Greider of The Nation.)
Michelle Obama famously declared last month that her husband's candidacy elicited pride in her country for the first time in her adult life. I'd like to think that's not really what she meant, but it's at least a sign of how ill-equipped she and so many others on the left are when it comes to discussing such issues.
And it's a crying shame, despite the fact that the Democrats' rhetorical disadvantage is a huge boon for the Republicans. One cannot credibly talk of love of country while simultaneously dodging the word and concept of patriotism. And, I would argue, one cannot sufficiently love one's country if you are afraid to say so out loud. Better that our politics be an argument about why and how we should love our country, not about whether some do and some don't.