Opinion: Barack Obama removes his U.S. flag lapel pin once more


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Well, it’s gone again.

Barack Obama’s little American flag lapel pin, which a disabled veteran gave him Tuesday and the Democratic presidential candidate announced he would demonstrably don for the crowd of applauding Pennsylvania voters and assembled cameras, went missing for the big debate last night with Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia.

The nationally televised debate was the final encounter between the two Democrats before Tuesday’s potentially decisive primary balloting in the Keystone State.

Last fall, as we recalled here Wednesday morning, Obama removed the flag lapel pin that he, like many in public and private life, had worn since after 9/11. The gesture called public attention to Obama’s early and continued opposition to the continuing Iraq War.


After a national controversy erupted over the symbolic removal, Obama....

explained his reasonable view that pins on the chest matter less than what’s in the heart. He had not worn the symbol since October.

And he was not alone in that act. The Republican presidential nominee-to-be, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a decorated war veteran and former POW, does not routinely wear such a pin either. Nor does Sen. Hillary Clinton, although neither of them used to and then stopped, claiming publicly there was some larger issue behind that choice.

A number of conservative commentators and bloggers suggested Wednesday that Obama’s sudden willingness to wear the U.S. flag pin in working-class Pennsylvania was an attempt by his campaign to assuage another ongoing controversy. This one concerns the candidate’s recent disparaging remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser about the thinking of small-town Americans who, he appeared to suggest, cling to religion and guns in bitter disappointment with their lives.

The fact is, countless voters at nearly every candidate’s appearance proffer gifts to the campaigner or anyone seemingly associated with the candidate. Secret Service guards, who must keep both hands free at all times, refuse to be distracted by such gestures or accept anything and are very careful about who gets close to the candidate holding what in their hands.

Alert campaign staffers usually head off such gift encounters to avoid any embarrassment, politely accepting the pins, cards, letters, photographs, even cookies, pies and cakes, and promising to pass them on, which they sometimes do.

For Obama to accept the token himself and publicly acknowledge it was no accident. Some past campaigns have even helped to arrange such seemingly chance encounters to create positive publicity and photo opportunities, not unlike planting questions in a public forum.


And the veteran’s presumably genuine gesture gave Obama the very public opportunity as part of his standard stump remarks to thank all the veterans present for their service to the country and then to put on the pin in front of them, which drew an enthusiastic ovation.

The actual wearing of the pin, however, lasted less than 24 hours. In last night’s debate Obama dismissed it as ‘a manufactured issue.’

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Matt Rourke / Associated Press