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Obama Won’t Wear Flag Pin

Senator Barack Obama has stopped wearing an American flag pin on his lapel, saying that it had become “a substitute for true patriotism.”

An eagle-eyed reporter for the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, noticed something missing from Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama’s, D-Ill., lapels. “You don’t have the American flag pin on. Is that a fashion statement?” the reporter asked, at the end of a brief interview with Obama on Wednesday. “Those have been on politicians since Sept. 12, 2001.”

The standard political reply to that question might well have been, “My patriotism speaks for itself.” But Obama didn’t say that. Instead the Illinois senator answered the question at length, explaining that he no longer wears such a pin, at least in part, because of the Iraq War. “You know, 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, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. “Instead,” he said, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

In Iowa, some Obama supporters applauded the candidate’s fashion statement. Said Carrie Haurum of Waterloo: “He doesn’t need to wear that flag on his lapel. He wears it in his heart.”

But talk radio and cable news quickly pounced on the issue. “It just shows you he’s not ready for the big time,” conservative Laura Ingrams opined on Fox News. Said Sean Hannity: “Why do we wear pins? Because our country is under attack!”

The conservative blogosphere is piling on as well. Michelle Malkin, Pam Geller, AllahPundit, Sister Toldja, and others are in various stages of outrage and disbelief.

Ed Morrissey‘s instincts here are right:

So what? Big deal. I’d have more respect for Obama if he had just left it at “lapel pins don’t solve problems,” but this is hardly worth the attention it will no doubt receive.

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of all the ribbons that get adopted for every cause. I’d like to end this fashion of wearing our hearts on our lapels and making that a requirement for demonstrating compassion for an endless litany of victims. In that sense, the flag pin at least had the novelty of supporting the entire country, and not just its victim classes.

Ed Driscoll and Jay Stephenson are similarly unexcited (although the latter thinks Obama’s “pandering to the radical base”).

Kathy @ Liberty Street and Steve Benen think this is just leadership.

What Obama’s true motivations are here, I couldn’t say. Frankly, I’m not all that interested.

I’m reminded here of two pop culture moments: The comedian George Carlin’s aphorism that “symbols are for the symbol minded” and the classic Seinfeld episode wherein Kramer refuses to wear an AIDS ribbon at a rally and is greeted with outrage.

ORGANIZER: But you have to wear an AIDS ribbon.

KRAMER: I have to?

ORGANIZER: Yes.

KRAMER: See, that’s why I don’t want to.

ORGANIZER: But everyone wears the ribbon. You must wear the ribbon!

KRAMER: You know what you are? You’re a ribbon bully.

ORGANIZER: Hey you! Come back here! Come back here and put this on!

New scene – Kramer in the AIDS walk. Some AIDS activists accost him for failing to wear the red ribbon.

WALKER #1: Hey, where’s your ribbon?

KRAMER: Oh, I don’t wear the ribbon.

WALKER #2: Oh, you don’t wear the ribbon? Aren’t you against AIDS?

KRAMER: Yeah, I’m against AIDS. I mean, I’m walking, aren’t I? I just don’t wear the ribbon.

WALKER #3: Who do you think you are?

WALKER #1: Put the ribbon on!

WALKER #2: Hey, Cedric! Bob! This guy won’t wear a ribbon!

BOB: Who? Who does not want to wear the ribbon?

New scene – Kramer surrounded by Cedric, Bob, and the other walkers.

BOB: So! What’s it going to be? Are you going to wear the ribbon?

KRAMER (nervously): No! Never.

BOB: But I am wearing the ribbon. He is wearing the ribbon. We are all wearing the ribbon! So why aren’t you going to wear the ribbon!?

KRAMER: This is America! I don’t have to wear anything I don’t want to wear!

CEDRIC: What are we gonna do with him?

BOB: I guess we are just going to have to teach him to wear the ribbon!

I’ve got a flag lapel pin and have worn it a few times, although I can’t recall the last time that I did. I wear my Bronze Star pin with some regularity and sport miniature Airborne or Air Assault wings when the mood strikes or it seems appropriate to the occasion. But wearing the flag simply feels trite.

For that matter, the playing of the National Anthem before a baseball game — nowadays followed by the singing of God Bless America around the 7th inning stretch — usually strikes me as hollow as well. It’s not a patriotic occasion and simply seems like a forced ritual during a recreational event.

I don’t mind people wearing pins or putting stickers on their cars as a show of support for their country or their cause. I am, however, irritated by the notion that so doing makes them somehow superior to those who don’t. There are certainly more tangible and meaningful ways to participate.

UPDATE: Steven Taylor reports this one is getting even sillier, courtesy Fox News.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    That’s the problem with this country and this war. People think the wearing of a pin or the placement of a magnetic ribbon on a car are the only sacrifices needed. Typical style over substance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. > I’m not all that interested.

    Ditto. But you and I are the typical voter, are we? The vast majority of votors don’t read blogs, can’t same the Sec Def, and have only a vague idea that is going on in the world.

    A presidential candidate is as much about symbolism as substance, and Obama keeps doing things that make me think he is running for Student Counsel rather than Leader of the Free World.

    This is shooting himself in the foot for Middle America, which is okay by me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. I find it surprising that anyone found it surprising that Obama wasn’t wearing a pin. Many people feel guilty about being American, not proud. Most people who find themselves in that situation also find themselves on the Left. (No criticism is intended here, I’m just pointing out the situation).

    Given that Obama is himself on the Left, one would think him more likely to not wear the flag than, say, Giuliani or Thompson since one would think him more likely to view America’s current actions (if there is such a thing as the actions of a country as a whole) in a much more negative light. If one of the Republicans stopped wearing the flag, that would be more surprising, and therefore more newsworthy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Michael says:

    Does anyone else see this as a deliberate move to prompt a discussion about people who use a facade of patriotism instead of the real thing? It seems to me this was Obama’s opening shot against Giuliani’s campaign.

    And on another note, what the hell is Sean Hannity smoking?

    Said Sean Hannity: “Why do we wear pins? Because our country is under attack!”

    Yeah, that’ll show those Islamofacists! If only more people had been wearing pins on Sept. 11th, those planes would have just bounced off of our patriotism and landed safely. Where “pins” part of the arsenal in the Iraq war planning to? Maybe we need to deploy some up-armored pins, you know, to help the war effort. And are we really investing enough of our defense budget on new and better pin-wearing technology? Perhaps we should create a new corp of elite pin-wielding shock troops to replace the SEALs and Rangers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. Grewgills says:

    I love the Hannity quote.
    The country is under attack! Quick everybody put on a pin!

    Micah,

    Your comment reads like a backhanded way of claiming that Obama feels guilty about being an American rather than proud like Giuliani or Thompson. Was this your intent?

    I have to agree that it would be more surprising to see Giuliani without a flag pin as his entire campaign seems to be predicated on bluster and jingoism.

    I have, however, seen at least one recent picture of Thompson without flag pin on lapel. Would this indicate guilt or just not feeling it necessary to wear the pin on every occasion that calls for suit or sport coat?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. Michael says:

    I have, however, seen at least one recent picture of Thompson without flag pin on lapel. Would this indicate guilt or just not feeling it necessary to wear the pin on every occasion that calls for suit or sport coat?

    It’s Thompson, he probably just forgot….again….about everything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  7. Triumph says:

    Let us remember that B. Hussein Obama is more-or-less an immigrant with questionable commitment to America. I am surprised he hasn’t sported a Kenyan flag on his lapel–or perhaps the insignia of his alma mater, the Indonesian madrassa where he studied.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. [...] regards to the whole pin business, I am in full agree with James Joyner: wearing the flag simply feels trite. For that matter, the playing of the National Anthem before a [...]

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  9. Tlaloc says:

    “Why do we wear pins? Because our country is under attack!”

    Yeah, that pretty much sums up Hannity. Member of the 101st fighting pin brigade. If only we’d had more pins maybe 9/11 could have been averted. It’s a well known fact that the invention of the lapel pin correlates directly with the turning point of the american revolution. The damn Redcoats were befuddled and demoralized by them.

    The Tet offensive occured because the NVA heard that US troops were due to recieve a huge shipment of American flag pins (made in china) and had to launch a premeptive attack.

    Rumors for years darkly hinted that the soviets were on the verge of creating a soviet flag pin when the empire cumbled under them. We dodged a bullet there!

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  10. [...] to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, AZAMATTEROFACT, DeMediacratic Nation, Adam’s Blog, Stuck On [...]

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  11. Davebo says:

    Perhaps Obama is just a really big John Prine fan?

    While digesting Reader’s Digest
    In the back of a dirty book store,
    A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
    Fell out on the floor.
    Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
    Slapped it on my window shield,
    And if I could see old Betsy Ross
    I’d tell her how good I feel.

    Chorus:
    But your flag decal won’t get you
    Into Heaven any more.
    They’re already overcrowded
    From your dirty little war.
    Now Jesus don’t like killin’
    No matter what the reason’s for,
    And your flag decal won’t get you
    Into Heaven any more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Steve says:

    “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, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest. “Instead,” he said, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

    don’t mind people wearing pins or putting stickers on their cars as a show of support for their country or their cause. I am, however, irritated by the notion that so doing makes them somehow superior to those who don’t

    James,
    It feels like Sen. Obama is doing the same thing that irritates you. He is feeling superior by not being sucked into mindlessly wearing the pin and instead performing a superior patriotic service by bringing to the table discussions of important issues. As if its an either/or issue. Was he not patriotic while wearing the pin and discussing those issues or did the public falsely think he was patriotic while he was wearing the pin but now he is truly patriotic while the other candidates are just pretenders?

    What is patriotism anyway? I remember a quote that hung in my American History class in High School. It read “My country, right or wrong, my country”. Or are you patriotic if you are ashamed of our country and declare it publicly when it does what other countries decide not to do? (e.g. The Dixie Chicks) Do you need to serve in the military or have a child that does/did to be patriotic? It’s such a nebulous term that I just feel it isn’t an issue for me nor should it be made an election issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Michael says:

    To be fair to the Dixie Chicks (and I really can’t believe I’m doing this), they said they were ashamed of their President, not their country. Patriotism has nothing at all to do with the person occupying the oval office.

    Patriotism also has nothing to do with agreeing with your country’s actions. It has nothing to do with military service, and it certainly has nothing to do with small flag-shaped lapel pins.

    “My country, right or wrong, my country” explicitly states that patriots can believe their country is wrong. Patriotism means you love your country, even when it is wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Congrats, another strong liberal takes a stand.

    Obama-”Piss on the Flag pin only fake patriots put on flag pins”.

    Where is Harry Reed when you need him????

    and dont tell me I took him out of context, its the way It sems to me as what he said, and thats all that matters, my fellings! Right liberals, are you with me, come on fair is fair!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Steve Savage says:

    What has America become? Are we now the Soviet Union where everybody has to wear their Lenin pin or they become accused of being unpatriotic?

    Surely there are more newsworthy issues like the failure of SCHIP legislation, our massive national debt and the neverending wars on iraq and afghanistan.

    Its either a slow news day or the Britney Spears dancing critics are dabbling in politics.

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  16. [...] to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, third world county, AZAMATTEROFACT, Faultline USA, DeMediacratic [...]

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  17. anjin-san says:

    What has America become? Are we now the Soviet Union where everybody has to wear their Lenin pin or they become accused of being unpatriotic?

    You got it. The neocon dream for America is sort of like the Soviet Union – with corporations…

    Of course the right has to screech about non-issues like this at full volume. They certainly can’t talk about Bush’s record.

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  19. LaurenceB says:

    In his mug shot pictures, Larry Craig is wearing a flag lapel pin.

    ‘Nuff said.

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  20. Fred Simpson says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

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  21. bob in fl says:

    I have never even owned a flag pin because it never was an issue for me either way. In my own way, I do things that are intended to make this a better country. I never intentionally do anything to harm it. Am I a patriot or am I for the terrorists? I guess Bush & Hannity would call me a traitor. Somehow I don’t see it that way. Most of you on here will at least think about it before answering.

    What Obama did & said has started a conversation among us about the issue of flag pins & the groupthink they represent. This is a good thing because it makes at least some of us take a look at what we believe in & question those beliefs. All of us on here are talking among ourselves about it as a way of addressing what we believe in. Thank you, Barack. I don’t always agree with what you say, but what you say often makes me think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. bob in fl says:

    … and thank you James for bringing what he said to our attention

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Dale says:

    I think the right is going overboard on this. That anyone would think that wearing a flag pin makes one appear more patriotic amazes (though doesn’t surprise) me. There are a great many things that aren’t what they appear to be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Elizabeth Edwards has made her views known regarding Rush Limbaugh only she took a different approach than attacking him for what he did not say about our soldiers. Instead, she attacked Limbaugh’s draft status, which was 1-Y (changed to 4-F whe…

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  25. >I don’t mind people wearing pins or putting
    >stickers on their cars as a show of support for
    >their country or their cause.

    I once saw a car with a red, white, and blue magnetic ribbon bearing the words “I’m more patriotic than you are” on the back.

    It still makes me grin every time I think about it.

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  26. >What is patriotism anyway? I remember a quote
    >that hung in my American History class in High
    >School. It read “My country, right or wrong, my
    >country”.

    “‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’” — G. K. Chesterton

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  27. just me says:

    I don’t think I own a flag pin. I think I fall in line more with the Captain on this one though, it seems like people often wear their advocacy on their sleeves-sometimes I think their advocacy is real and heartfelt and an attempt to raise awareness or support.

    But at some point they sort of become meaningless.

    I remember back when the AIDS ribbons were the big thing, and every actor/actress/singer/whatever on awards show wore one, and at some point they started getting bigger, because obviously the bigger the ribbon the more you supported the cause. It just got silly.

    I don’t think flags or ribbons solve much of anything-and I don’t think the lack of said flags or ribbons mean anything either.

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  28. Stix Blog says:

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  30. Since 9/11, it seemed to become the federal civilian equivalent of a mandatory uniform item to wear a U.S. flag lapel pin with a suit jacket or blazer.

    Since I am a serving U.S. foreign service officer, when stationed overseas I nearly always wear a lapel pin with the U.S. flag crossed with the local/host nation’s flag. But then, I’ve always been posted to nominally “friendly” countries. When in Washington, like you I’ll sometimes wear a Bronze Star lapel pin, if I know I’m going to be working with military folks or a simply U.S. flag pin otherwise.

    If H. Barack Obama doesn’t feel that wearing a U.S. flag lapel pin indicates patriotism, that’s his lookout. It’s muddy thinking, but then it’s better we find that out about him now than later on.

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  40. [...] by saying he should put stars and stripes back on his lapel.  The absurdity of this can best be described by Seinfeld, looking back at the episode where Kramer refused to wear an AIDS ribbon: ORGANIZER: But you have [...]

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  43. Grewgills says:

    If H. Barack Obama doesn’t feel that wearing a U.S. flag lapel pin indicates patriotism, that’s his lookout. It’s muddy thinking, but then it’s better we find that out about him now than later on.

    Wearing a flag pin does not indicate patriotism any more than wearing an AIDS ribbon indicates a genuine commitment to do something about AIDS. Of course neither of these fashion choices indicate a lack of commitment either, but unfortunately in far too many cases these items are a substitute for a real commitment.

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  44. Let me put it this way: in terms of “branding,” if someone can’t be troubled to “talk the talk” and wear a few grams of symbolism, what confidence can you place in them doing anything more strenuous in the vein of patriotism?

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  45. [...] To: Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Big Dog’s Weblog, , Right Truth, [...]

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  46. Grewgills says:

    Let me put it this way: in terms of “branding,” if someone can’t be troubled to “talk the talk” and wear a few grams of symbolism, what confidence can you place in them doing anything more strenuous in the vein of patriotism?

    Rather than look at what pin they are wearing you could look to what they actually say and do. If what they say and do is patriotic then you can be quite confident in their patriotism. In the case of Obama he has said and done plenty to indicate his patriotism and a pin more or less will not change that.

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  47. Grewgills says:

    Somebody noticed I wasn’t wearing a flag lapel pin and I told folks, well you know what? I haven’t probably worn that pin in a very long time. I wore it right after 9/11. But after a while, you start noticing people wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. Not voting to make sure that disability payments were coming out on time.

    My attitude is that I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart. And you show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who served. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and our ideals and that’s what we have to lead with is our values and our ideals.

    Obama

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