Flag Lapels Won't Get You in the White House Anymore

John Prine had it right. And this was back in 1971.

But your flag decal won't get you Into Heaven any more. They're already overcrowded From your dirty little war. Now Jesus don't like killin' No matter what the reason's for, And your flag decal won't get you Into Heaven any more.

Twenty-seven years later, the decals have changed to lapel pins, but the argument is back full-force. When in October of 2007 Barack Obama made his now-famous comment about not wearing the flag lapel pin because it had "become a substitute for true patriotism," he caused a tremor in the political force that has yet to completely subside. Even though he went on to clarify that "you show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans…by values and ideals," the political cat was out of the bag, running around the FOX news set, and pissing on everything.

This is how Obama has gotten into trouble, of course—by speaking casually about complex issues not yet made ready for sound-byte politics, whether it's about lapel pins or the bitterness of mid-America. But in this case, Obama was far from the only one making this move. He was just the only one challenged to defend it. At least so far.

Sean Hannity was one of the early adopters of the lapel-pin strategy, taking Obama to task for his comments. "Why do we wear pins?" he asks. "Because our nation was under attack." This is sort of like claiming that you own a Rockies jersey because the Red Sox won the World Series—the two statements might both be true, and be interconnected—but not in the way on which the argument seems to depend. But putting aside that illogic, Hannity isn't even consistent in terms of his own argument. Random appearances on his own show aside, Hannity isn't even wearing a flag lapel pin on the cover of his 2005 book Deliver Us from Evil (which in the light his above argument, should probably have been subtitled And Don't Forget the Flag Pin).

But this was October of 2007. Over six months ago: an eternity in politics. So why is it back now? Charlie Gibson. "It [the flag lapel pin "controversy"] comes up again and again when we talk to voters…it's all over the internet," he said in one of his many lines of useless questions from the Pennsylvania debates. Seriously, Mr. Gibson—if Sean Hannity can let go of such a useless issue, surely you can too?

The problem with issues like these aren't that they mean nothing, even though it can be argued that they don't. The problem is that they distract from issues that do mean something to Americans, to the voting process, to our future as a nation and as a world. This is, of course, why political hacks like Hannity latch onto them so tightly—so they can wield them like a club, over and over again, thudding into the dirt louder and louder so that nothing else can be heard above the violent din. And the distraction factor is why it's beneath the notice—let alone the mention—of real members of the press like Charlie Gibson.

We need to stop talking about flag pins. We need to stop talking about all the asinine blather that gets attention during election seasons. And it's not just that things like the right lapel pin won't get you into heaven—or the White House—anymore…it's that they do nothing for us but to take our attention away from the real stuff going on. Like killing. And like dirty little wars. -- Teague Bohlen

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Sean Cronin