I find it hard to believe that this is even an issue in a national election in a country with so many real problems and issues to debate and resolve. But it seems the punditocracy is all a twitter over Barack Obama’s decision not to wear an American flag lapel pin, which apparently signifies much more than a break from political sartorial conformity. If you believe them, it’s a rejection of the flag, the principles it stands for and everything that’s good and American in the world. Apparently it means he no longer likes baseball, mom and applie pie too.
This issue originally surfaced last fall when Sean Hannity went on a tirade about Obama’s decision not to stick a little American flag on his lapel. Although it seemed to have been laid to rest, it resurfaced this week during the Democratic debate when Charlie Gibson threw up a video question from a Pennsylvania voter about Obama’s reasons for not wearing a flag lapel pin, just adding to the unpleasantly confrontational character of the debate questions, which seem to have been picked to balance out the impression that Obama received excessively favorable treatment in the last couple of debates.
Now I’ve got to make a terrible admission. I don’t wear an American flag pin in my lapel either. My reasoning isn’t that different from Obama’s. I think it trivializes the flag as a symbol and is a cheap and hollow display of superficial patriotism which is a poor substitute for actually thinking about your beliefs. And you know what? I’m not going to wear a flag on my lapel at our state GOP convention and if I get picked as a delegate to the national convention I’m not going to wear one there either. I hope I won’t be tarred and feathered for heresy.
I’m just sick and tired of the trivialization of issues like patriotism and love of country. These are deeply personal beliefs and tying them to simplistic symbols lessens their meaning. This ties directly into the debate over burning the flag. The people who want everyone to wear a flag lapel pin are the same idiots who want to protect the flag from being burnt. In both cases they seem to be incapable of telling the difference between reality and symbolism, and if that’s the level of their thinking I question whether they are qualified to play any kind of decision making role in politics.
What’s ironic is that these are also the same people who object to blue-jeans with flags on the butts, American flag jackets and other commercializations of the flag as wearing apparel. How those uses of the symbol are any different from a lapel pin is beyond my capacity for doublethink. The only difference is who happens to be wearing the flag and the conviction that the flag is being respected more if it’s on a three-piece suit than if it’s on a pair of cowboy boots.
I do wear lapel pins, by the way. At political events I usually wear several which represent groups I belong to. I don’t wear an American flag because unlike the ones I do wear which advertise particular political interests which may not be well known, the fact that I’m an American ought to be stupidly obvious when I’m at a political event that’s part of an American presidential election.
The level-headed Puritan leader Roger Williams once wrote “forced religion stinks in God’s nostrils.” Well, the same is true of forced expressions of patriotism, especially when forced by mindless peer pressure. Flag lapel pins don’t have any meaning or value, except to express the wearer’s eagerness to conform and to let meaningless symbolism speak for him rather than thinking for himself.
I know it’s excessively judgmental, but when I see that flag lapel pin I tend to think a little less of the wearer and wonder if his patriotism and love of country goes any deeper than the surface of that lapel.