O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
- "The Star-Spangled Banner"
Francis Scott Key, 1814
And indeed it does. Old Glory waves, as it always has, from atop courthouse and post office, from the dome of the Capitol to the porch of Aunt Mary's mobile home, from the cab of the fire engine to the shoulders of our soldiers at war. But there is one place from whence the Star-Spangled Banner no longer waves: Barack Hussein Obama's lapel.
According to the New York Times, Senator Barack Obama said Thursday that he stopped wearing an American flag pin in his lapel years ago, saying the symbol has become an empty substitute for true patriotism. Is that so? What exactly is the Senator saying?
Is he saying that the American flag is now a symbol of empty patriotism - that it stands now for nothing more than that? It no longer stands for General Washington at Valley Forge; for the Marines atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima; nor for Neil Armstrong on the moon?
Do the thirteen stripes and fifty stars no longer stand for the thirteen original colonies, and the fifty current states? Or was that a part of American history not covered in the public school Sen. Obama attended as a child in Indonesia? And participating in Democratic politics for the last two decades has provided no occasion for the subject to arise?
Perhaps he is not speaking of the American flag specifically, but merely of its use as a lapel pin. Now, certainly the wearing of an American-flag pin doesn't make a person a patriot, any more than wearing an American-flag bikini does.
But again, we must ask, is the American flag itself somehow corrupted by the imperfect people who might wear it or hide behind it? Let us imagine, somehow, that on some occasion Hitler were to have worn an American flag pin. Would that suddenly have befouled the flag, and we'd need to come up with a new one? Of course not. The very thought is absurd.
The American flag is far more than some colors and shapes. It is, as Obama rightly says, a symbol. But to say that it is merely an empty symbol, a substitute for patriotism, is to utterly fail to understand the whole sweep of American history - really, to fail to understand America itself.
The United States is a nation like no other. We do not require membership in a particular ethnic group, as Obama of all people should know. We do not require adherence to a specific religious creed or denomination, as half the world does. We don't even appear to require a common language anymore, though this is a serious mistake.
It's all the more important, therefore, that those few symbols which do unite all Americans, be treated with respect. Not by banning disrespectful actions - that would be pointless; in many cases the flag is honored by being disrespected by the disrespectable. But by holding it, in our hearts and minds, above the common fray, and refusing to even consider the possibility that any use, misuse, or abuse of it could ever besmirch the symbol itself.
Obama feels uncomfortable wearing an American flag lapel pin because of what it symbolizes for him? As an American, he has every right to wear, or not to wear, an American flag. Not every politician does; John McCain, for example, a decorated war hero and POW whose patriotism is completely beyond question, is rarely seen to wear one, and in no way does that detract from him.
But for someone to actually feel uncomfortable, in any way, about the American flag - now, that shows a window into the soul. What country is he running to be president of? A country of no flag? President of the world, perhaps? Even Hillary, certainly an opponent of Bush and "his" war, recognizes that the flag itself is sacrosanct.
A man who finds the American flag uncomfortable, would find dwelling in the White House, surrounded by them, deeply disconcerting. Far be it from us to sentence him to that fate.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.