Americans celebrate Independence Day amid political battles

WASHINGTON  - With fireworks displays lighting the skies from coast to coast, Americans celebrated Independence Day as White House hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain geared up Saturday for new clashes on the campaign trail. President George W. Bush spoke Friday at a ceremony at the home of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, in Monticello, Virginia, where 72 people became naturalized US citizens and swore an oath to their new home nation. At the start of his speech, Bush was interrupted by hecklers in the audience who screamed: "Impeach Bush" Bush paused and chuckled, saying: "To my fellow citizens-to-be, we believe in free speech in the United States of America." Turning to the event at hand, Bush highlighted the story of one newly minted US citizen, Mya Soe from Myanmar, who Bush said was harassed by the country's military rulers for teaching "local villagers how to read and write" and "in 2000, left a life of fear for a life of freedom." "I'm sure there are other stories like Mya's among you. But we must remember that the desire for freedom burns inside every man and woman and child," Bush said. "You represent many different ethnicities and races and religions. But you all have one thing in common " and that is a shared love of freedom," Bush said to an audience that included natives of Afghanistan, Norway and Iraq. "This love of liberty is what binds our nation together, and this is the love that makes us all Americans," he added. The widely distributed Parade weekly magazine featured essays on patriotism by the two leading White House hopefuls, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. "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," Republican presumptive nominee McCain wrote. "It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything," he said. Obama, who watched a traditional parade with his wife and daughters in the western state of Montana, wrote that for him, patriotism was a "gut instinct." "It's not just the recitations of the pledge of allegiance, the Thanksgiving pageants at school, or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, but how the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me," he said. That ideal includes a "country where we have the unparalleled right to pursue our dreams." "With a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, I know that stories like mine can only happen in the United States of America," he said. Obama, who would be the first African-American US president if elected, recalled childhood memories of Indonesia and the expatriate American life. "I lived overseas for a time as a child, and I remember listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence and explaining how its ideas applied to every American, black and white and brown alike," he said. McCain, who just returned from a Latin American tour designed to woo critical Hispanic voters, appealed to newer Americans, saying that "to love one's country is to love one's countrymen." "It is the willing acceptance of Americans, both those whose roots here extend back over generations and those who arrived only yesterday, to try to make a nation in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom," he said.

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