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Obama fights back on questions about his patriotism

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  • Obama responds to question about attempts to paint him as unpatriotic
  • Obama cited for not wearing American flag lapel pin, among other things
  • Obama: "There's always some nonsense going on in general elections"
  • Clinton has said she has shown she can withstand conservative attacks
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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama defended himself and his wife Sunday against suggestions that they are insufficiently patriotic.

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Sen. Barack Obama defended himself and his wife against recent suggestions that they are not patriotic.

After a town hall meeting in Lorain, Ohio, a reporter asked Obama about "an attempt by conservatives and Republicans to paint you as unpatriotic."

The reporter cited the fact that Obama once failed to put his hand over his heart while singing the national anthem.

Obama replied that his choice not to put his hand on his heart is a behavior that "would disqualify about three-quarters of the people who have ever gone to a football game or baseball game."

The reporter also noted that the Illinois senator does not wear an American flag lapel pin, has met with former members of the radical anti-Vietnam War group, Weather Underground, and his wife was quoted recently as saying she never felt really proud of the United States until recently.

Asked how he would fight the image of being unpatriotic, Obama said, "There's always some nonsense going on in general elections. Right? If it wasn't this, it would be something else. If you recall, first it was my name. Right? That was a problem. And then there was the Muslim e-mail thing and that hasn't worked out so well, and now it's the patriotism thing.

"The way I will respond to it is with the truth: that I owe everything I am to this country," he said.

The first-term senator from Illinois has been the subject of various debunked rumors since launching his presidential campaign -- allegations that he is a Muslim, that he took his oath of office on a copy of the Quran and that he attended a radical Islamic school while living in Indonesia as a boy.

"You will recall that the reason I came to national attention was a speech in which I spoke of my love of this country," said Obama.

He and his wife, Michelle, had already explained her comments. "She simply misspoke," he said. "What she was referring to was [that] this was the first time she has been proud of politics in America. Video Watch what Michelle Obama said »

"That's true of a lot of people who have been cynical and disenchanted. And she's spoken about how she has been cynical about American politics for a very long time, but she's proud of how people are participating and getting involved in ways that they haven't in a very long time."

About not wearing an American flag lapel pin, Obama said Republicans have no lock on patriotism.

"A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans' benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?

"That is a debate I am very happy to have. We'll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism."

Obama did not respond to the question about the Weather Underground, a group whose members bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during the 1970s.

Last week, the New York Sun reported that as an Illinois state senator in 2001, Obama accepted a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founder of the group who was not convicted for the bombings and now works as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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But the paper said that, in a statement, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, William Burton, said, "Sen. Obama strongly condemns the violent actions of the Weathermen group, as he does all acts of violence ... But he was an 8-year-old child when Ayers and the Weathermen were active, and any attempt to connect Obama with events of almost 40 years ago is ridiculous."

Former first lady Sen. Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that she is a stronger candidate because she has already shown she can withstand conservative attacks. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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