I think the debate over flip-flopping is missing what's probably the more significant development of the campaign: John McCain is saying that Barack Obama is not patriotic. A few days ago, when asked if he questioned Obama's patriotism, McCain did not answer the question. And now, in today's Parade magazine, McCain has an essay on patriotism:
Patriotism is deeper than its symbolic expressions, than sentiments about place and kinship that move us to hold our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything.
I'm kind of suspicious that the first line is a reference to the lie that Obama does not put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. But put that aside, and focus on how McCain defines patriotism. He says it's putting your country before your party and your self-interest. Now recall what he says about Obama:
In his time on the national stage, [Obama] has consistently put his party and his self-interest first. ... There has never been a time when Barack Obama has bucked the party line to lead on an issue of national importance. He has never been a part of a bipartisan group that came together to solve a controversial issue. He has never put his career on the line for a cause greater than himself.
So McCain is defining patriotism as something that, he's insisting over and over, Obama has never done. McCain isn't going to come out and say that Obama isn't a patriot, but the implication is clear, and when asked, McCain won't deny it.
In my exchange with Noam over whether the flip-flop attack will work, I suggested that it's, in part, a way to destroy Obama's credibility so that voters won't believe him when he says he's a Christian, an American, and so on.
Happy Independence Day!