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Private patriotism

Questioning Obama's or McCain's service to country is like asking if they love their wives.

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It's as easy as grilling hot dogs to revel in Fourth of July rituals. Fireworks, parades, flags, and picnics help bind Americans. But the holiday is also a time for each person to recall the good in the nation's past – and renew faith in the good still to come. That private patriotism is hard to show, as Barack Obama and even war hero John McCain have learned.

In a contest starting to be laced with personal attacks, each man's past service to country has come under the rocket's red glare of a media onslaught.

This week, a former general and aide to Mr. Obama said Mr. Mc-Cain's fighter-jet downing in Vietnam is not a credential for the Oval Office. And Obama's devotion to America – as seen in his community organizing and in legislating – has been so challenged that on Monday he gave a 29-minute speech on patriotism – to try to prove to others what he already knew for himself.

Ever since the Revolution, bashing a candidate's love of country has been as common as sparklers on the Fourth. Though unsavory, jabbing someone's patriotism reflects the peculiar origins of a country whose identity was first forged out of Puritan debates over faith and then in the Founders' attempts to unify 13 colonies under Enlightenment ideals.

America's legacy of ideals tinged with faith means patriotism lies in a person's heart, making it difficult to prove. "When we argue about patriotism," Obama said, "we are arguing about who we are as a country."

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