by Robert Illes —
Have you noticed? He’s been wearing one. Barack Obama, I mean. He’s been wearing one of those American flag lapel pins.
They are such required attire for Republicans, right-wing pundits, and strange libertarians like Lou Dobbs, that they must be as much of a cash cow as an Iraq War supplemental, I’m convinced these pins are lovingly churned out by a division of Cheney’s Halliburton.
Now it is virtually a Constitutional declaration that only Republicans are genuinely entitled to wear these devices. These same “flag bearers” are also entitled to criticize – quickly – those officials caught in public not wearing one, as Obama was; but, as a codicil to the above, also entitled to – quickly – call it a bogus attempt at pretending to be a patriot if some liberal official is caught in public wearing one. As Obama was.
So then why is he, the “most liberal Senator in the Senate” – ( since John Kerry in 2004) – bothering? And won’t this flag pin wearing simply be seen as cynical and disingenuous, not to mention something a stealth “Manchurian Candidate” would do, out to fool stupid people! It’s like Yogi Berra in a Dodger uniform, or George Bush saying he’s concerned about Global Warming. Not buying it!
If you know anything about recent American political history, it’s not just politic to dutifully don the pin; it’s downright scary if you don’t.
First a little context. Not to pound my chest (and I wouldn’t anyway because my flag pin might stab me), I have been a Barack Obama fan from before the beginning, I mean before his successful Spring spanking of the once candidate presumptive Hillary Clinton. Certainly I along with everybody else became acutely aware of him as a result of his show stopping, barnburner of a speech at the ’04 Democratic Convention. He subsequently appeared on the Charlie Rose Show in October of 2006, expressing due reticence about his ’08 ambitions for the Presidency. But his poise and grasp of the issues definitely had me hoping he would rethink his reticence. Of course at the time, enthralled by this RFK-like figure, I was in a mode of over-estimating the American public and, no doubt like Obama, figured they’d just end up handing it to Hillary anyway.
But Obama did run, and he did become the presumptive Democratic nominee, and now he’s running for the Big White Prize (pun possibly intended).
And considering the disdain for Bush, and McCain’s flabbergasting embrace of Bush, one would think Mr. Obama could cruise right on in.
But wait. If this is Obama’s race to lose, what up with the lapel pin?
In a very direct way, it has a lot to do with stuff like Japanese internment camps, and the Hollywood Blacklist, and ’02 authorization to use force against Iraq, and Nancy Pelosi keeping impeachment “off the table.”
More background: during the endless Democratic primary campaign, Obama was inevitably questioned about his starkly naked lapel. “Hate America or what, you black skin wearing, crazy minister’s speech not fast enough denouncing, Muslim background having freak?” They seemed to be asking. He rightfully responded, as I recall, that a mere flag pin is a false indicator of country love. A lame excuse! You could hear Chris Matthews’ squeal as soon as those words left his lips.
It was probably around the time some Drudge-type, if not Drudge himself, dug out some old photo, and scolded Obama for not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, irrefutable proof he is in fact an America hating Muslim terrorist stealth candidate. Of course we stand during the National Anthem (which he was in the photo – we put our hand over our heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s video proof of Barack doing both which the Obama campaign was quick to counter with.
Obama knows that impugning ones love of country is an amazing cudgel in this democracy of ours. Especially if one is a black man (never mind being fully half white) with a funny Mid Eastern sounding name. So Obama, first and foremost a politician of top notch quality, opts for muting the attack, rather than a “so freaking what?” response. He is black, he does have a funny Mid East sounding name, and there are a lot of “under informed” Americans out there, so he has to try harder. And so the lapel is no longer naked.
“Under informed” Americans (thank you Jonathan Alter for the use of that moniker). These are a huge swath of Americans who pay $5 a gallon for gas, see their children killed in Iraq, see their jobs disappear and re-appear in Malaysia, and yet are horrified with the prospect of an America-hating liberal black Communist taking over. They don’t have a problem with Gitmo, or renditioning “terrorists”, or even brown illegal immigrants (or in some cases, even legal ones) of any nationality for that matter. Terror works as a method if there are people who can be terrorized.
And these folks can be terrorized, it has been demonstrated over and over again.
Mostly, unfortunately, they are terrorized by the wrong thing – their own government, a government which is not particularly looking out for them, but who needs their help – in strength of numbers – backing up their schemes, so everything looks “democratic” and is all about “security”. And aiding this effort is a very strong suggestion that there are enemies within who are not to be trusted: gay people, especially the ones who want to get married, brown people who may have snuck in here and are stealing us blind for our health services, grabbing all the cool lettuce picking jobs, and might be planting A-bombs.
In 1942, when the war with Japan erupted it occurred to someone in government: there are all these Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. They could, by god, be spies. Where is their loyalty really? Do we know? And so, with breathtaking swiftness, executive order 9066 was issued: all Japanese-Americans, and probably a lot of Japanese looking people – but citizens all – were uprooted and sent to ersatz concentration camps. Their property was confiscated. Our rights, as George Carlin said, are an illusion that are temporarily in our possession. But since we were duly terrorized not just by Pearl Harbor but by the possible threat of some home grown culprits, there wasn’t much of a hue and cry. And if you did venture to do so, I’d venture to guess you’d be thrown in a camp as well, if not officially but by vigilantes (such as those building the “border wall” now).
But of course this was wrong then, but no politician, no Supreme Court and certainly not the vaunted FDR challenged it (he after all, administered it).
Why no vigorous protests? “Under information” is a dangerous thing.
In 1946, after the success of World War II, the war machinery was a little concerned: there was no war for companies to profit from, or politicians to get behind. And so when that darn Communist Stalin and the Soviet Union got all puffed up in victory over the Nazis, they loomed as good a threat as any to our national security. And good god, Communism – that’s sneaky. Anybody could be one. Lucille Ball maybe. Or how about those guys writing all the “peace” movies – movies our kids watch, and get all those, you know, subliminal messages?
And so another useful thing to scare “under informed” Americans with. And it was easy in the 1950’s. Fresh from victory, things were good. We didn’t want to do anymore heavy lifting or heavy thinking. Now the US of A was the big baller, shot caller of the world. But still, we were vulnerable to creepy ideas, like those Communists have tons of. And ka-boom, they set off their own Atom bomb! Jewish spies fed them the info! And then big old China went red!
It was on.
It was good to live in the land of “Leave it To Beaver”, but there were monsters looming, enemies which had to be rousted, or they’d quite easily overturn us. Nobody stopped to think how the hell they would do it, exactly, but anyway, we had to be ultra wary – so the under informed were thus mis informed by the way too informed.
Enter go-getters and commie chasers like Richard Nixon and the rest, and we embarked upon the Cold War. Nixonism I call it took hold and hasn’t really let go. (Oh there was a bit of a concern in 1989 when the Soviet Union and its satellites imploded but thankfully bin Laden picked up the bogey man slack).
And those “liberals” back in the 40s and 50s who insisted on their Constitutional Rights were seen as dangerous underminers. Fellow traveler, they called them. The famous Hollywood Blacklist was a great way for Hollywood to demonstrate they were on the right side of things – the far right. Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner were “patriotic” big businessmen. No way were they going to let the industry be tagged with anti-Americanism. While hedonistic actors and intellectual writers were artistes, they were portrayed as aloof and scary to the “under informed”. And as with the Japanese-Americans, nobody much minded that they were tossed in jail, or stripped of their right to work or otherwise neutralized. They refused to wear lapel pins, metaphorically or otherwise, and they paid the price.
Some politicians boldly asserted their opposition to McCarthy and Nixon, and many paid a price for that till it was demonstrated – in the once grand and responsible Main Stream Media – that at least McCarthy was a psycho, and the blacklist later ended as well.
But what never ended was the fear, and the “patriotism requirement”, to a greater or lesser degree. The hunt for homegrown “Communists” was back in vogue during the Vietnam War, especially during Berkeley’s “free speech” movement. The flag once again appropriated by the right wing as their private symbol, a symbol of war, of limiting free speech, and everybody having a gun and using it, the death penalty, etc. etc. etc. Certainly the converse is that not all American citizens were entitled to think of the flag as theirs, too. It wasn’t LSD sucking Tim Leary’s flag. It wasn’t peacenik Abbie Hoffman’s flag. It wasn’t protest singer Bob Dylan’s flag. It wasn’t civil rights advocate Martin Luther King’s flag.
And the effort continued to keep the “under informed” Americans under-informed.
Obama knows the true Power of America. It is not in the hands of Dick Cheney, or he Defense Department, or even in the Constitution. It is with the under-informed. So why give those that exploit their under-informedness any more ammunition?
Bill Moyers once editorialized, “why does the flag belong to the right? Why can’t I wear a flag lapel pin, too”? And he dutifully put one on. I don’t think he ever followed through with it. But I thought it was a brilliant idea.
Let’s ALL put on lapel pins. Sure it may make that division of Halliburton rich but I think this is for a pretty good cause.
Obama’s approach is obviously, “let’s chill, give me a pin. OK, our lapels are even; now can we talk about important crap?”
And let’s get elected.
Let’s undo 60 years of Richard Nixonism, and faux patriotism litmus tests. And once and for all, let’s inform the under-informed.
by Robert Illes
Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry’s Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What’s the matter with those people!? Internet radio show “Funny is Money” starring Bob Illes is now on nightly at 7 PM Pacific time www.shokusradio.com
Recent articles by Robert