The New York Times has an item this morning about tonight’s Republican debate, and it featured this Getty Images photograph, taken before the start of last week’s debate.

It wouldn’t be especially interesting, except I also remember seeing this photograph several hundred times four years ago.

With the latter image, then-candidate Barack Obama explained he puts his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance, but sings during the National Anthem. It seemed entirely reasonable, and hardly worth a fuss. Nevertheless, those desperate to paint Obama as somehow less American used the image to question his patriotism. It was an ugly and offensive smear campaign — the effort to define Obama as The Other has never entirely gone away — and this one photograph was included in countless chain emails.

And yet, there’s that shot of Perry. I can’t speak to the context — whether it was during the Pledge or the Anthem is unclear just by looking at it — but note the similarities. In the 2007 picture, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson are seen with their hands on their hearts, but Obama has his hands at his side. In the 2011 picture, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney have their hands on their hearts, but Rick Perry has his hands at his side.

This leaves me curious. Will the picture of the Republican candidates lead to widespread questions about Perry’s patriotism? Will be it be shown, over and over again, on cable news? Will the Texas governor be asked for an explanation?

Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the former’s patriotism beyond reproach and the latter’s suspect?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.