Throw away those little plastic flag pins and start being true patriots!

July 3, 2008 | By | 6 Replies More

Paul Slansky is frustrated that conservatives have captured the American Flag as their symbol.

The emblem of the country’s highest aspirations was mindlessly ceded to the holier-than-thou zealots who used it as a bludgeon against the less fanatical.

Here’s Slansky’s solution: Progressives should take the American Flag back by displaying it ourselves. He argues that when everyone starts wearing the flag, it will be neutralized, a la The Sneetches.

Barack Obama, who earlier took some flack for his empty lapel, is on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone with flag pin gleaming. We should follow his lead. Everyone who’s voting for Obama — and especially those who are public figures (i.e. Keith Olbermann, Jack Cafferty, Rachel Maddow) must immediately procure a flag pin and not be seen without it before November 5th. If you can’t do it with pride, do it as an act of subversion.

I understand Slansky’s frustration. I feel it myself. I often feel like a stranger in my own country, especially when xenophobes parade around while waving my flag. I understand Slansky’s strategy too, and it just might work. But there are a some principles that much bigger than the American Flag.

One of those principles is that we shouldn’t give in to thugs by agreeing we must display cheap little flags to be patriotic. Being compelled to wear those little flag pins is the first step on a slippery slope toward abject stupidity. Look, here’s a photo of Abraham Lincoln not wearing a flag pin. Here are several photos of Ronald Reagan not wearing a flag pin. Here’s a painting of George Washington not wearing a flag pin. I don’t hear any conservatives hyper-ventilating out there. Therefore, this issues of patriotism is not really about the flag. If it were, conservatives would have dug up the remains of those dead Presidents and added little plastic flags to those remains.

The flag is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. The real problem is that too many Americans are becoming simple-minded. Americans need to start focusing on things that are truly important. Let’s show our fellow citizens some real respect by challenging them to look past those little plastic flag pins. If progressives start wearing little flag pins, then conservatives will each wear two of them, which will launch an arms race of faux patriotism. Where will it end? Fifty foot flags waving in every conservative’s front yard? Now that’s some real patriotism, eh?

Displaying the image of the American flag is not important except to simpletons and thugs. If we have learned anything over the past few years, isn’t it that wearing the flag is a cheap and therefore unreliable display of patriotism? Haven’t we seen that unpatriotic people (those who have turned the Constitution on its head for the past seven years) can easily wear a flag while damaging the United States? It’s easier for thugs and simpletons to spy on their fellow citizens or to waterboard their perceived enemies while wearing little flag pins than it would be for them to really honor the Constitution.

Isn’t this also what Zahavi‘s work has clearly demonstrated, that signals are not reliable unless expensive? Shouldn’t we be paying much more attention to expensive signals of patriotism? Shouldn’t we be looking for those who honor the Constitution through their sustained intelligent efforts, especially when it isn’t convenient for them to do so? Working hard to abide by the principles of the Constitution would be a reliable signal of patriotism. Such reliable displays (e.g., taking steps to stop torture and to return control of the public airwaves to the public) leave the multitudes of modern day fake patriots in the dust. People wearing little flag pins is the functional equivalent of turtles wearing little signs on their shells that say “I’m fast.”

If some wizard stole every image of the American flag, we could still have a great country. We could even change the flag into something else (e.g., a triangular cloth flag emblazoned with the image of the moon) and we could still have a great country.

“Where did that old stars and stripes go?” someone might then ask.

“We changed it into a triangle-shaped flag with picture of the moon,” we might respond. “We found that the traditional American Flag was turning into a mere fetish for too many fake patriots. We’ve got a new flag now and we’re striving to make the United States even better than it was before. For example, we have publicly financed our elections to almost eliminate the corrupt influence of corporate money on politics.”

“But you couldn’t possibly be a real American –you don’t even wear a flag pin.”

“Actually, we focus on our democracy rather than our flag.”

The American Flag is only a symbol of all the things that many of us collectively strive to be. The American Flag is only important because we’ve agreed that it represents certain things. To think otherwise–that the American flag is something intrinsically important–is to commit the sin of reification. People who reify symbols are fundamentalists. Let’s not be fundamentalists.

I can think of a better way of approaching this problem of flag-waving Neocons than by playing their game. How about showing the Neocons (and the timid, the thugs and the simpletons) that we can run this country in a thoughtful and efficient way, in accordance with our proud history and our great Constitution, without pretending that we’re doing a better job simply by wearing plastic flag pins.

Actions speak louder than little flag pins and all thoughtful citizens already know this.


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Politics, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. And how about the magnetic stickers? I see them as the same thing as the flag pin. It drives me nuts when I see sticker after sticker on vehicles – all to prove what?

    How many of those who sport the magnetic stickers on their vehicles actually participate in peace rallies or write their congressional representatives in opposition to anything?

    I support our troops, and I want them home.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Oh, and if displaying the American flag is patriotic, THESE women are ESPECIALLY patriotic.

  3. Good grief – Jessica Simpson – dog tags and all.

    Yep – we've come a long way, baby.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey, 69 percent of adult Americans who responded to a poll June 26-29 said the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be disappointed by the way the nation has turned out overall.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Obama raises the bar:

    <img src="; alt="Obama flag pin" />

    Daryl Cagle,

    (reprinted with permission)

  6. Sam Rackham says:

    For years I've been hearing this whole flag controversy. I knew a liberal who was actually offended by the flag & considered it a conservative symbol. Can't we all just respect our flag as Americans and get over silly meaningless controversies?

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