Barack Obama & The Flag Pin

by Laura Snedeker

Style triumphed over substance on the campaign trail and in the mainstream media recently, when a minor controversy over Senator Barack Obama’s jewelry unexpectedly broke out.

A reporter for KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, asked the presidential candidate last week why he recently shunned the traditional American flag pin.

“The truth is that right after 9/11 I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security."

A day after that remark, he mentioned his flagless jacket at a campaign appearance, explaining that true patriotism has more to do with “being true to our values and ideals” than with lapel decorations.

His pre-emptive strike against accusations of un-Americanism didn’t stop his rivals from trying to one-up him in the patriotism game.

Wearing a flag pin is just one of the ways “that one can demonstrate patriotism,” along with other flag-related activities such as “flying the flag [and] pledging allegiance to the flag,” frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton said at a campaign fundraiser in Chicago.

A spokesman for Republican candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said that the candidate is “proud to wear an American flag pin as much as possible and on any occasion.”

Patriotism is always in fashion during campaign season, when politicians ensure an abundance of red, white, and blue, and the number of times a candidate says “God bless America” is directly proportional to the number of people they would personally torture.

True to form, FOX News jumped into the fray with insightful political commentary from Kate Obenshain of the Young America’s Foundation.

“It’s a little weird, Alan, that in the middle of the campaign, the guy takes off the American flag that most people wear because they’re proud of their country,” Obenshain told Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes. “It’s a statement."

The American flag pin isn’t just a statement; it’s the political equivalent of body armor in today’s hyper-patriotic political climate. Obama walked right into an ambush of media desperate for a sensationalist story and political rivals desperate to prove their unquestioning love for America’s symbols and rituals.

This latest brouhaha is just one more sign that, contrary to what the candidates and the media would have us think, the campaign is already winding down. They have already debated the major issues and their positions are as good as set in stone, barring some earth-shattering international or domestic development. Even so, political events probably shape voter loyalty more than they shape the candidates’ positions; not even the recent Blackwater allegations prompted calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

If the media were overjoyed when campaign season began earlier than ever before, then they must be apprehensive about the lack of new and exciting campaign news. Political speeches, town-hall meetings, and campaign finance reports rarely captivate the viewers’ attentions any more. The candidates and the media, tired of rehashing old positions, have decided to score cheap political points and stir up meaningless controversy.

Why try to challenge traditional notions of patriotism and ask “What does the flag mean?” when you can gossip in scandalized tones and ask “Why doesn’t he wrap himself in the flag?”

(The photo of Sen. Obama campaigning in South Carolina is by transplanted mountaineer via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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