KWAME HOLMAN: Barack Obama chose Independence, Missouri, to deliver his challenge today to those who have questioned his patriotism.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: It’s worth considering the meaning of patriotism, because the question of who is or is not a patriot all too often poisons our political debates in ways that divide us rather than bring us together.
I’ve come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I’ve 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.
And yet, at certain times over the last 16 months, I’ve 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 and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.
So let me say this at the outset of my remarks: I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign.
And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.
KWAME HOLMAN: Obama also defended John McCain’s commitment to the country a day after retired General Wesley Clark, an Obama supporter, questioned whether McCain’s Navy service qualified him to be president. Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Clark said, “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice, to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.
Now, for those who’ve fought under the flag of this nation, the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed, for those like John McCain, who have endured physical torment in service to our country, no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary.
And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters of both sides.
We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform, period, full-stop.
KWAME HOLMAN: At a news conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this afternoon, McCain issued his own response to Clark’s comments.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I think that that kind of thing is unnecessary. I’m proud of my record of service. And I have plenty of friends and leaders who will attest to that.
But the important thing is, if that’s the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to gauge, I understand that.
But it doesn’t reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny. It doesn’t achieve our energy independence, make it come any closer. It doesn’t help an American stay in their home who are in risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to address the challenges that Americans have in keeping their jobs, their homes, and supporting their families.
KWAME HOLMAN: McCain also was asked whether he thought Obama was patriotic.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I think that Senator Obama is a great American success story. I think his family is. I think he’s someone who is admired and respected throughout this country and the world.
I think our differences are how we intend to move forward in conducting the affairs of this country. We have very different views and very different positions, and I look forward to ventilating those.
But I think all Americans are proud of Senator Obama and what he’s been able to accomplish, he and his entire family have been able to accomplish in this nation. And I think it’s living proof of some of the greatness of America.
KWAME HOLMAN: McCain departs on a three-day trip to Central and South America tomorrow, while Obama will campaign in Ohio.