Opinion: Breaking News: Obama caves! Flag pin returns to his coat lapel


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OMG, will you look at that? Amazing what a protracted primary struggle amid bitter small towns will do to previously stated political positions.

The flag pin is back on the lapel of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. No, really. Look closely at his left lapel in this photo from MSNBC on Tuesday.

You may recall Obama removed the lapel flag pin last fall as something of a gesture of independence if you’re an Obama fan -- or an act of defiant antiwar non-patriotism if you’re not.


At the time Obama removed the pin, which most politicians had worn on their suit coats since 9/12 as a sign of patriotism, solidarity with 9/11 victims and their families and national support for American troops.

However, when a sharp-eyed local ABC-TV reporter in Iowa asked him, half-jokingly, about it in October, Obama went on to explain seriously at some length:

‘You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. 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,’ Obama added rather grandiosely, ‘I’m going to try to tell....

the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.’

Of course, removal of the little symbol could also be framed as a statement of principle that usefully underlined his oft-stated and long-standing opposition to the Iraq war unlike, say, some other Democratic senators who wanted to be president and voted to authorize use of force in Iraq.


The little flag’s big disappearance aroused considerable controversy at the time. It was tied in with the fraudulent photo of Obama not placing his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, thus publicly displaying a lack of patriotism.

‘It just shows you he’s not ready for prime time,’ said Laura Ingraham, the conservative commentator.

Once the flames of controversy really got roaring, Obama reasonably explained, ‘I’m less concerned with what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that’s what we have to lead with, our values and ideals.’ But it was too late by then.

OK, he weathered that one and has done just fine on the delegate-collection side of things ever since, wearing naked lapels. Although the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon about the chickens coming home to roost on American shores on 9/11 re-created some awkward moments for Obama.

But, whoa, there he was Tuesday on national television at a Keystone State town hall meeting trying, with some success, according to recent polls, to play catch-up to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the next key Democratic primary state of Pennsylvania, which votes April 22.

And there, like a screaming eagle proclaiming Obama’s patriotism for all the bitter, disgruntled voters of small-town America to see just days after he seemed to dis them to an elite crowd of donors at an allegedly closed fund-raiser in a San Francisco mansion, waving stiffly on the senator’s left lapel was the old red-white-and-blue flag pin. Watch and see if it’s still there in tonight’s debate.

According to a touching-possibly-true-but-then-again-you-never-know-in-big-time-politics report circulating on several blogs during the night, the pin was reportedly given to Obama Tuesday morning by a disabled veteran whose name nobody seems to know right now.

So naturally not wanting to hurt the vet’s feelings, how could the 46-year-old Obama do anything other than immediately put the pin back on his public lapel for as long as necessary?


If we were cynical and had over the years seen even the most seemingly idealistic politicians sway with the winds in the face of political pressure just before a crucial election, we’d write something about how convenient that no one caught the vet’s name.

But then, probably by lunchtime today someone will find a disabled Pennsylvania veteran who claims he’s the one who proudly gave the little pin to the candidate. And Obama can then wear the minute flag until he himself turns 88 without having to explain an embarrassing but awfully convenient political flip-flop in the face of running against a Republican war veteran who spent nearly six years in a POW cell. And who, by the way, won his party’s presidential nomination rather handily without any lapel pin.

(UPDATE: Thanks to loyal Ticket reader Ariane for steering us to video of Obama acknowledging the disabled vet. And it didn’t even take until lunchtime.)

So we’ll leave out all that cynical part.

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo Credit: AP