by John McCormick
MUSCATINE, Iowa â€“ The photo continues to circulate on the Internet and a voter here this afternoon asked Sen. Barack Obama to explain why he did not have his hand over his heart in front of a giant American flag when the other candidates standing next to him did.
Calling the viral e-mail a "classic dirty trick," the Illinois Democrat told his supporters to correct the record and that the image is not what it appears to be.
"This is just so irritating," Obama responded. "This was not the Pledge of Allegiance. This woman was singing the Star Spangled Banner. Now, I was taught by my grandfather that you put your hands over your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Star Spangled Banner, you sing. So that's what I did."
The photo was taken this summer at Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry in Indianola, Iowa.
"These aren't the only e-mails that are going out," Obama said. "You've got e-mails saying that I'm a Muslim plant that's trying to take over America and this and that and the other."
Obama, speaking to about 350 people in the gymnasium of a community center, advised a polite response to those sending around the message.
"If you get this e-mail from someone you know, set the record straight," he said. "You don't have to curse them out, just tell them that they are misinformed."
Earlier, in an interview this morning with Radio Iowa, Obama said he makes no apologies for aggressively challenging Sen. Hillary Clinton in recent weeks.
"The politics of hope has never meant that we ignore difficult problems and it certainly doesn't mean hoping that your opponents aren't going to point out contradictions or difficulties in your record," he said.
"Voters don't want manipulation or lies or distractions from the issues," Obama said. "I do think that the voters want to get clarity about what the various candidates stand for, want specific answers to some of the tough questions that we're facing."
Obama said it was "pretty surprising" that former President Bill Clinton had warned his wife's critics that they were entering "Cutesy Land" by questioning her patriotism in a way the group of so-called "Swift Boat Veterans" did with John Kerry in 2004.
Obama said the question over whether illegal immigrants should be given driver's licenses was handled in a "civil" way during last week's debate.
"She then got tangled up in her own answer," Obama said. "Now, the notion that somehow that was the equivalent of 'Swift-Boating' is a little far-fetched and I think that the Clinton campaign itself would probably acknowledge that."