Never underestimate the tendency for American political
discourse to ignore the important issues and devolve into paranoid hysteria.
Isn?t it more fun to debate whether Barack Hussein Obama is an America-hating
Muslim Manchurian candidate than whether he has the best health care reform
plan?

Mr. Obama?s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has
made many controversial, inflammatory and demagogic remarks in his sermons over
his tenure at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. However, only in
the last couple of weeks has a media storm erupted and outraged cries of
guilt-by-association come from America?s media elites. Mr. Obama finally gave a
speech on race and politics in America last Tuesday to denounce Wright?s
statements but reaffirm his ties to Trinity.

What Mr. Wright said has certainly not been uplifting or
easy to listen to on constant loop on cable news channels and Sunday morning
talk shows. He referred to the United States as ?The U.S. of KKK-A,? accused
the U.S. government of creating the HIV virus, proclaimed after the Sept. 11
attacks that ?America?s chickens are coming home to roost,? and infamously
shouted, ??God bless America? No! No! No! God damn America!? in several of his
recently publicized sermons. Some of these statements have a hint of truth,
some are flat out wrong, but all of them make many Americans deeply
uncomfortable, angry and defensive.

Some questions about Mr. Obama?s association with Mr. Wright
are legitimate. Why didn?t he leave the church if he had heard the pastor say
things he didn?t agree with or knew to be untrue? Trinity Church is an
institution in Mr. Obama?s largely black state Senate district in Illinois, and
he benefited politically from his affiliation with it. But Mr. Obama could have
at least approached Mr. Wright to register his displeasure with statements he
knew were untrue, like that the U.S. government created the HIV virus ?as a
means of genocide against people of color.?

Should Mr. Obama have been more courageous? Probably,
although it?s not clear exactly what sermons he attended or whether he was
aware of all the remarks Mr. Wright had made.

But the larger question is why are we discussing whether Mr.
Obama actually agrees with Mr. Wright?s statements? Mr. Obama attended Ivy
League schools, edited the Harvard Law Review, was an Illinois state senator
for eight years and is by all measures a brilliant man. I have no doubt that
Obama does not believe the United States somehow deserved the Sept. 11 attacks.

This debate we?re having is fundamentally not about Mr.
Wright?s words but about allusions and symbols to American patriotism. Mr.
Obama doesn?t wear a flag pin on his lapel, he doesn?t put his hand over his
heart when ?The Star-Spangled Banner? is playing, he has a Muslim-sounding name
and he may have attended a madrassa in Indonesia ? I don?t even know what that
is but it sure sounds scary!

We Americans, believing our country is obviously the
greatest on earth bar none, exhibit a remarkable lack of tolerance for
self-criticism and self-reflection. While Mr. Wright clearly went way over the
top with his rhetoric, he was criticizing the long legacy of racism in this
country and foreign policies he disagrees with in a way he knew would generate
an emotional response to his sermons. Whether he is right on the substance is
extremely debatable to say the least, but nothing he said was fundamentally
unpatriotic when placed in context.

It is undeniable that this country has a racist past that
resonates to this day and has implemented foreign and domestic policies that
have harmed our interests and hurt many American citizens over the years. We
shouldn?t use Mr. Wright?s inflammatory rhetoric as an excuse not to come to
terms with this reality.

Supporting everything your country does because your country
is always right is not patriotism; it is foolishness.

Patriotism should not be interpreted merely as a proxy for
the preservation of the status quo. This line of thinking is more about
maintaining the current power structure in the country than about ensuring our
presidential candidates? loyalty to America?s interests.

Loving your country means wanting to improve it and being
willing to speak out when you perceive injustice. In these terms, Mr. Wright
could be considered more patriotic than a lot of Americans. He should be
condemned for his inaccuracies, but not for his willingness to speak
passionately about taboo subjects many Americans would like to forget about.

America?s policies anger both black Americans and white
Americans. Both sides have legitimate grievances and resentments we cannot
?wish away? ? as Mr. Obama put it. This futile debate over who loves America
the most is a distraction from bridging these divides. So can we please agree
not to question each other?s patriotism this election season?

Ryan Greenfield
([email protected]) is a
junior majoring in political science and economics.