A Flag Pin? Come on!

Illustration for article titled A Flag Pin? Come on!

B, you're kidding me, right? The flag pin? Come on.

I've noticed you're wearing it again—a lot. I also noticed you've been talking about patriotism—a lot. Too much, in fact


Now, I have no beef with the flag or with patriotism, but I do when they are used as political weapons by people who think they are the arbiters of authentic American patriotism. Here I thought, as a voluntary American, that what made this country so great was that its citizens were allowed to express their love for it in their own individual way, subtle or overt. Now it seems that the measuring bar is being set by a coterie of small-minded media pundits, jingoistic journalists and crazy conservative talk-radio hosts.

Is this how your handlers suggest you signal to voters who question your love for this country that you really, really, really, do love America? I hope not, because all it does is reinforce your doubters' suspicions that your positions are fluid and politically expedient, and it confuses your supporters who believe that you are a man of strong principles. If you're not careful, "change we can believe in" is going to take on an entirely new meaning.

True, you've taken a bit of a beating on the patriotism question, which is being unfairly linked to the race question, but people who don't support you are not going to be swayed by a pin on your lapel. They would neither vote for you nor vote against you based solely on the pin. Instead, I suspect they point to the flag pin as another reason that they don't like or trust you. And that's okay, that's their right.

If you're going to try to reach them and change their minds, you're going to have to connect with them in some other way and on some other level. Try addressing their unspoken fears. Tell them that you understand that the thought of voting for a black man for president is as foreign to them as voting for a Martian. Try to convince them that you will indeed represent their interests, too, and not be just "the black president."

You've talked often about Americans having more in common than we do differences. Well, talk to your doubters about those commonalities. Tell them how hardworking whites and hardworking blacks and hardworking Latinos and hardworking Asians all share the same can-do American work ethic, and, as a result, should all share in America's wealth. Tell them how all these groups are working harder than ever for wages that have not kept up with inflation, and tell them how you will address this disparity as president. Tell them how an Obama administration will ensure that the working poor can afford health insurance and that their children can dream of going to college even if their parents never could. Tell them how you would push for policies that would help them become homeowners without having to sell their souls to Lucifer on bank notes written in invisible ink. Go to their neighborhoods and barbershops, their restaurants and local ballparks, even their churches. I'm sure there will be some places where you will not be welcome, but I'm equally certain there will be more places where you will.

Let's face it. There aren't many people who look like you in some quarters where you will face an uphill battle this fall if you are the Democratic nominee. But when you talk to them one on one, when they meet your wife and kids, when they share a meal with you, when they realize that you care about some of the very same things they do, and that you share some of their concerns about the direction of this country, some will surely come around. And for those who don't, just wish them well and be on your way.


You have a multihued contingent of Americans already behind you, and they got behind you because there were inspired by your message of hope and by your promise of a different kind of politics. When you took a principled stand against the gas tax holiday and called it an empty political gimmick, many of us respected that sort of truth-telling. When you refused to take donations from political action committees and lobbyists, we liked that, too. When you indicated that you were a leader and not a follower by not reflexively wearing the flag pin, we got it.

Wearing the pin now gives the impression that you're allowing yourself to be dictated to by the bullies on the right who keep trying to define and redefine you, so far without lasting effect. There's a reason their stuff isn't sticking: The majority of Americans are not buying it. Nor are they listening to the silly reporters who could be asking you a wealth of legitimate questions about global warming and rising poverty, health care and housing, the slowing economy and rising fuel and food costs, but choose instead to ask you about a silly little pin. Stop your wasting time on them. You have an election to win.


Remember Al Gore pre-Nobel Peace Prize, when he was candidate Gore with the professional image-maker who wanted to remake him into an alpha male by color-coordinating his clothes? Voters back then saw him less as a change agent than as an agent of desperation.

Save the empty symbolism for the empty suits. You're bigger and better than them. Give me some of that change I can believe in, not the pander I can do without.


And if all else fails and you're still concerned about projecting the right sartorial image, for God's sake, take off your tie once in a while.

Marjorie Valbrun is a Washington, D.C. based journalist.