I've been thinking about those lapel pins with American flags. Actually, they've always given me the creeps; and this certainly isn't because I lack in love of country. I suspect that some of you have had enough of my love of country. Probably also there are lot of you out there who'd prefer that our pols wear the United Nations flag instead of the American flag, and most of you are -- alas and alack -- in the same Obama camp as I am. But that would be sheer stupidity or, worse yet, hypocrisy.
What bothers me about the flag obsession is that it is not really bearing one's soul or even one's loyalty to country or patriotism on the chest. There are very few people actually disloyal to the United States or unpatriotic. On the Fourth of July there must be tens of millions of barbecues grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for family and neighbors, a true index of how we feel about our country. The flag is, at best, only a minor representation of loyalty, and the loyalty comes in different flavors. What really counts is whether one is devoted to the Constitution and to its principles. And there's no pictorial short-hand for that.
But lapel pins are a historical short-hand, and they are an ugly historical short-hand. During the Nazi period in Germany, Austria and their ugly statelets like Slovakia, swastikas suddenly erupted on lapels and hats and arm bands. These were fascists reassuring each other. During the longer Communist period from after World War I to the late 1980s, in the Soviet Union and even worse among the captive nations, there was the hammer and sickle, the red ribbon, even the baby Lenin pin on everyone's every thing to show that no one failed the test of patriotism or, to be more accurate, love of Marxism, which is a harder thing to love. Of course, it was an easy test -- and I'm sure that American and British spies wore them, too.
The American flag has a way of entering political campaigns almost always without substance and meaning. For years the issue was over flag-burning. Then it broke down into subsidiary matters: should there be a constitutional amendment against flag-burning? Or a simple federal law against it? I know there has been no constitutional amendment, thank God, for whom there might or might not be needed a constitutional amendment...I don't know whether a federal law has been passed against the grave offense, which, as it happens, Antonin Scalia sees as constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
But, on the other hand, Senator Clinton introduced a law making it a federal crime (with serious penalties) to burn the national flag. Maybe that's why she hasn't been deluged with the question of why she doesn't wear the tell-tale pin, telling, that is, how much she loves America. Actually, sometimes she does wear the pin and sometimes she does not. This must drive the pin peddlers dotty.
Poor Barack Obama, he's been put to the test of the flag pin again and again. Perhaps it's because his middle name is Hussein. Still, did you notice that rumors that the candidate was a Muslim suddenly vanished when news of his misalliance with Jeremiah Wright was distributed on...well, on what wasn't it distributed? If he's not a Muslim he's an America-hating Christian. Huh?
Anyway, the fact that he didn't wear the pin became controversial. How many people do you see at the mall emblazoning their patriotism on their bosom? Not many. This is a test that almost no one passes. At least, Obama passed the test of not being intimidated by professional patriots.
And then some veterans's organization gave him a pin, a pin of an American flag. Coming from men and women who have fought for their country -- and fought very recently in a war that does not command the support of past wars -- his taking the pin and wearing it is a sign of respect for them and for their loyalty to and love of America.