Opinion: But will the pin issue stick?


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There was a fair amount of noise this week about Barack Obama’s comments to an Iowa TV station that he had stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin -- a seeming requirement for serious political candidates (that’s how you can tell they’re American, apparently).

‘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, instead I’m gonna try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”


Other candidates don’t wear flag pins very often, either. John Edwards comes to mind, with his pin commemorating his son Wade, who died in a car crash. But symbolism is everything in politics, and the littlest things can sometimes echo far beyond the moment. Think Michael Dukakis and the tank. Or Dan Quayle and the spelling lesson. When the symbol reinforces a broad perception of a candidate -- Dukakis not quite ready for prime time; Quayle not quite ready for sixth grade -- it can be devastating.

Which is why you can expect the Obama pin story to flutter around for a while, particularly on radio shows that make symbols of patriotism a litmus test, even though some of their own statements are tantamount to stepping on a political land mine (Google Limbaugh and ‘phony soldiers’).

Most voters, one would suspect, are likely to shrug this kind of stuff off. But as we just pointed out, it can have a corrosive effect over time, which has a lot to do with why you never hear the phrase ‘President Dukakis.’ Or President Kerry, for that matter.

But if you must wear a lapel pin, at least the American flag would be cheaper than a McCain pin.

-- Scott Martelle