It's been difficult for me to maintain much excitement or optimism regarding the Democratic nomination process, but I found a sidenote from the Barack Obama campaign last week to be particularly compelling, both for its substance and for what it represented.
Asked why he doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin, Obama replied:
"I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great. Hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism... I haven't worn that pin in probably a very long time. I wore it right after 9/11. But after a while, you start noticing people wearing the lapel pin but not acting very patriotic. My attitude is that I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on you lapel than what's in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those ones who serve."I was blown away by the downright no-bullshit honesty of that statement, no small matter in this election. And of course, the right had a field day with overheated claims that Obama is godless and un-American because of his bare lapel. And of course they would. Their reaction was no surprise, but what did surprise me was the split-in-half reaction of much of the public, as seen on CNN's online poll that day, where only half agreed with his decision about the pin. CNN's online polls usually run more left than that, so that grabbed my attention right away.
I wonder how generational this split might be. I think it's extremely difficult for many older Americans to understand how warped the flag has become to the rest of us. We feel that it's a symbol the right has taken and subverted for its own political agenda, and many of us are truly sad about that. I used to think nothing of displaying an American flag, but there's no question I wouldn't be comfortable doing that today. That's not because I consider myself "un-American," but because I feel that the meaning of the flag has been twisted to represent things I'm not comfortable with. It's been taken over by people I disagree with on every level. The fault of this cooptation lies, of course, with a president who spent years claiming patriotism with every political move and a party so intent on breathing red, white, and blue fire they started ordering "Freedom Fries" rather than asking for something French.
Of course, the representative who led the Freedom Fry crusade later disowned it and came out against the war, acknowledging that potato rhetoric was pure hyperbole in the face of life and death on the ground in Iraq. It's exactly like the flag. We laugh when satirical right-wing hosts drape their sets with the Stars & Bars, because we immediately recognize it as Republican window-dressing. Colbert's point is made without having to say a thing, and that's only a small part of what's been lost with this administration.
I mourn the flag and the nonpartisan way I used to look at it; I do. I always viewed it with critique about the U.S., absolutely, but always with the knowledge that it still belonged to me, too. Now, I look at the flag and feel shame, sadness, and outrage at the right-wing politics that took it over for their own.
Bill Maher, ever the pain-in-the-ass hysterical genius, summed this all up perfectly for me today in his latest missive of "New Rules." In "American Flag Pins are for Idiots," Maher ties together the emptiness of the magnetic bumper sticker set ("Because stickers are tough to get off, and we may change our mind about never forgetting") and the "fake outrage hard-ons" of the men they vote for, the very ones who led the "patriotic" charge against Obama last week.