Barack Obama's Flag Flap

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama now finds himself at the center of a new controversy dubbed Pingate. For those who haven't heard the story, Obama, like many other politicians, started wearing a pin of the American flag on his lapel shortly after September 11. But he later stopped wearing it and was asked why by a television station in Iowa. He responded that he did not need to wear that flag pin to show his true patriotism and that he could show his patriotism by expressing his ideas on how to make America better.

Unfortunately for Obama, although he may be absolutely right on the rhetoric, he is dead wrong on the politics. And as a result, he is getting bashed again, even by one of his hometown newspapers.

I have already written about our sorry state of political discourse before. Superficiality from politicians and their operatives is quite dangerous when it is mixed with an unengaged electorate that focuses more on symbolism and emotion than on logic and results. How many times have Democrats heard Republicans say "We must not criticize our president in a time of war because the terrorists will think America is divided!"? How many times have Republicans heard Democrats say "Republicans are racist and sexist because they oppose affirmative action and abortion rights!"? Both of these statements are obviously exaggerations used to strike fear, anger, and condemnation into the electorate by branding large groups of people.

It appears that Barack Obama has not been paying attention to any of this. As a result, he shot himself in the foot, was thrown off message, gave Republicans a new talking point to use against him, maybe even made a few of his supporters (as well as people who were neutral about him to begin with) question his patriotism, and quite possibly even angered voters who equate wearing that flag pin with patriotism!

Obama's comments about there being other ways to show "true patriotism" are definitely true. If wearing a pin were all it took to be patriotic, Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could go from "Axis of Evil" to "Our Brothers in Solidarity" in a heartbeat! It's a lot more difficult and much more indicative of one's true patriotism to actually advocate and pursue legislation that advances our nation. However, such a position is a bit too cerebral for many voters to properly digest. I personally think Obama would have been in the clear had he never worn the flag pin at all. Or he simply could have kept wearing it just to "play the game" and keep everyone happy. Nobody would have said a word about it then. That's not pandering; that's smart politics. And like it or not, in politics and in life in general, symbols matter.

As sad as it may be, there are a lot of people in America who still mistakenly think Obama is a Muslim (and therefore a "radical") or is potentially disloyal to the United States because of his international upbringing. These are the people who keep referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." These voters, who would probably never vote for Obama anyway, are just waiting for him to give them more evidence that they can use to bring his loyalty and patriotism into question. These people want to play on the fears and insecurities of others to further their own agendas.

And even worse, this story will cause Obama to lose a few precious news cycles because it throws him off message. Instead of being asked about his Iraq policy and why he is better able to get initiatives X, Y, and Z done, he's going to be asked about this flag pin instead. This is the kind of story that reinforces people's doubts about whether Obama is really up to the job. This is the kind of story that his political opponents can use to bring his "experience" and "judgment" into question. These were already sensitive spots for him that I had written about earlier.

John Kerry's political career was effectively ruined by his "botched joke" last year. Of course, if you actually thought about Kerry's remarks, they made a lot of sense. After all, the military is often the final destination for people who have few skills and no options elsewhere. However, it was far easier to take Kerry's remarks at face value and react angrily because "he insulted our troops' intelligence." Obama had better hope that the same thing doesn't happen to him.

Obama's already having to deal with stories about how Hillary Clinton raised more campaign cash than he did during the third quarter, how he seems stuck in the polls, and how Clinton is pulling away from the field. This flag pin story is exactly what he most certainly does not need right now. But unfortunately, it's a problem that he brought about on himself.

Watching Alan Keyes at the recent Republican debate at Morgan State University was very revealing. If this was the kind of opponent Obama had to run against to get his Senate seat in 2004, he probably could have belched the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner" with a rubber duck on his head and still coasted to victory. Running up the score on such a political lightweight is not good training for a serious campaign. This flag flap is the kind of poor choice that leads me to believe that Obama might not be as politically savvy as the pundits say he is.

2 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

I don't know... I kind of admire him for his answer, especially after all the flak he's taking. And I'm not even an Obama person.

Anonymous said...


September 11, 2006, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush stand on a carpet of the American flag at Ground Zero in Manhattan, the site of the September 11, 2001 attack. Section 8b of the Flag Code reads, " The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground..." Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

In July 2003 President Bush autographed a small flag. This picture was circulated across the Internet noting its violation of the Flag Code: "The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature." Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Of course…. George is from Texass:

Think we can get Texas to take this off the floor of the Texas State Capitol Building!?!?
"The flag should not be ... allowed to touch the ground." (Flag Code, Section 7n)

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.