OF PINS AND PINHEADS.

Barack Obama decides to forgo flag pins:

"Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for "true patriotism" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Asked about it Wednesday in an interview with KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Illinois senator said he stopped wearing the pin shortly after the attacks and instead hoped to show his patriotism by explaining his ideas to citizens.

"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," he said in the interview. "Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism."

Imagine that, rather than simply indulging in the paraphernalia of American freedom, Obama proposes to actually engage in a debate over the ideas and principles which undergird it. (The Chicago Sun-Times says this makes him "sound like a hardened leftist." Your liberal media at work!)

I very much supported, and was personally very moved by, the displaying of flags after 9/11. I think it was important, after the shock and trauma of that day, to grieve and to spend time considering who we are, together, as Americans. Very quickly, however, display of the flag metastasized into a mawkish symbol of tribal identification for the right, which is what it remains. If you front the flag, you're with us. If you don't, you're suspect. I think this obsession with things, furnishings, accoutrements, flag pins, commemorative plates, songs about boots in asses, is perfectly emblematic of patriotism as it exists for much of the right. It's become essentially a form of kitsch. Milan Kundera described this in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

“Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass. The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! The second tear makes kitsch kitsch.”

The flag pin has little to do with actual patriotism, has much to do with getting misty eyed over the idea of one's patriotism: "Yes, how wonderful that I am a patriot, with other patriots." Conservatives may willingly acquiesce to Bush's dismantling of the constitution, they may cheer for his ceaselessly disastrous foreign policy, but at least they're wearing their flag pins!

Obviously, by eschewing flag pins, Obama's not "ceding the flag," he's ceding the kitsch, and good for him.

--Matthew Duss

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