Of Pins, Ribbons, Obama, and Jerry Seinfeld

It comes as no  surprise that Barack Obama’s decision not to wear an American flag lapel pin has been met with shock from the right wing extremists who confuse expressions of authoritarian pseudo-patriotism for true patriotism. When asked why he wasn’t wearing a pin, Obama responded:

“You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.

“Instead,” he said, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

There certainly is nothing wrong if people choose to wear an American flag pin, but far too many people substitute such tokens for real understanding of what this country is about. It makes little sense for someone to call themselves a patriot, regardless of whether they are wearing a flag pin,  when they oppose the ideals this nation was founded upon.

A true patriot understands the skepticism of authority which motivated the founding fathers, both in breaking away from England and in the form of government they established. You cannot both be a patriot and condemn all those who exercise their right to dissent as traitors. You cannot both be a patriot and support an unprecedented increase in power for the executive branch. You cannot both be a patriot and ignore fundamental beliefs of the founding fathers, such as by spreading revisionist versions of American history to deny our essential liberties such as separation of church and state.

The Chicago Sun Times responded to Obama by saying he should put stars and stripes back on his lapel.  The absurdity of this can best be described by Seinfeld, looking back at the episode where Kramer refused to wear an AIDS ribbon:

ORGANIZER: But you have to wear an AIDS ribbon.

KRAMER: I have to?


KRAMER: See, that’s why I don’t want to.

ORGANIZER: But everyone wears the ribbon. You must wear the ribbon!

KRAMER: You know what you are? You’re a ribbon bully.

ORGANIZER: Hey you! Come back here! Come back here and put this on!

New scene – Kramer in the AIDS walk. Some AIDS activists accost him for failing to wear the red ribbon.

WALKER #1: Hey, where’s your ribbon?

KRAMER: Oh, I don’t wear the ribbon.

WALKER #2: Oh, you don’t wear the ribbon? Aren’t you against AIDS?

KRAMER: Yeah, I’m against AIDS. I mean, I’m walking, aren’t I? I just don’t wear the ribbon.

WALKER #3: Who do you think you are?

WALKER #1: Put the ribbon on!

WALKER #2: Hey, Cedric! Bob! This guy won’t wear a ribbon!

BOB: Who? Who does not want to wear the ribbon?

New scene – Kramer surrounded by Cedric, Bob, and the other walkers.

BOB: So! What’s it going to be? Are you going to wear the ribbon?

KRAMER (nervously): No! Never.

BOB: But I am wearing the ribbon. He is wearing the ribbon. We are all wearing the ribbon! So why aren’t you going to wear the ribbon!?

KRAMER: This is America! I don’t have to wear anything I don’t want to wear!

CEDRIC: What are we gonna do with him?

BOB: I guess we are just going to have to teach him to wear the ribbon!

And the Chicago Sun Times is trying to teach Obama to wear the flag pin.