True Patriotism: The empty lapel of Barack Obama
"It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities..." Samuel Johnson
The stage is covered with American flags, draped and propped and perched everywhere, to the left, to the right and behind the speaker's dais, which itself is covered with flag bunting and a covey of microphones nearly buried in a spreading nosegay of ... flags.
The wall at the rear of the stage is covered by a gigantic "Old Glory" and every participant, from the high and the mighty to the clipboard bearers, coffee servers and floor sweepers wears a flag on his lapel or near her heart. Ubiquitous is the term that comes to mind, sleazy is another, frightening yet another.
The people, the true believers in the audience are waving smaller versions of the national banner in a crazed, grinning, drooling frenzy of nationalistic sentiment, carrying signs, and banners, wearing shirts, hats, and neckties on which the same theme is repeated, ad nauseum projectillum.
All in all, there are more flags in attendance at this rally than swastikas at Hitler's lovely Nuremberg torch light soirées of the thirties.
Such is the face of American politics, American policy, in the 21st century, lurid, self righteous and jingoistic, the face of rabid, belligerent sanctimony.
There is significant part of this crowd as all the throngs in attendance at these events who wish that, along with the flags there would be represented, with equal prominence, the cross, the symbol of the God that they believe has led them to ravage large portions of the world, to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents, to maim, to cripple and traumatize, and to displace millions more, to drive hundreds of millions of others to despise with a nearly everlasting hatred, the very symbols that they display in their leering, insensate, mocking pride.
If you can, imagine this scene, which has become so typical of these modern American political debates, rallies, or other functions, so carefully crafted, the throwing of red meat to the circus crowds, displaying for the cameras the totality of the zealous support of an admiring public.
Imagine, if you will, that the cameras have panned back, way back to display the crowd watching from the distance, from other shores, in other climes, crowds who lack the same enthusiasm for the gong banging thirst for empire of their gleefully celebrating oppressors now displayed on the television screens or newspapers in Baghdad or Amman, Lima or Jakarta, Islamabad, Mexico City, Agra or dozens of other locales on every continent.
Imagine what must occur in the minds and hearts of those who treasure other flags, other histories, those who treasure other Gods.
One man, in this crowd, a prominent figure, who in the course of the evening will take center stage to speak or debate, to encourage, cajole or inspire those who thirst for his version of this America does not wear a flag in his lapel.
The absence of this nearly obligatory symbol of patriotic obeisance on his very public lapel has set tongues to wagging in some quarters and caused a great sturm und drang among the more vitriolic talking heads of the mass media and their admirers.
He did not remove the symbol publicly, nor did he cast it into some dramatic fire, nor tread it under foot, he called no press conference to discuss the removal of this small pin from his coat, he simply decided that the time for meaningless chauvinistic displays, so prominent in the wake of the smoldering rubble of the Twin Towers should give way to real patriotism, to simple action, to meaningful discussion of what is right about this America as well as what is wrong.
When the criticism began, when the cynical questioning of his patriotism began to slide unctuously from the mouths of the self serving and opportunistic pundits of the corporate media, he mounted no stages to make a great defense of his simple act, he made no apology, he quietly stood his ground and said this:
"If anyone's patriotism should be considered suspect, it's those who want to send Americans off to die in a worthless and destructive war and those who want to eviscerate our basic political values by torturing, detaining people with no rights, and spying on American citizens with no warrants..." Barack Obama
"A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans' benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?
"That is a debate I am very happy to have. We'll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism." Barack Obama
And this from another time in our history, during the thirties when the patriotic torches were burning in Nuremberg and reaction was forming at home:
"When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled "made in Germany" It will not be marked with a swastika; It will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, "Americanism." Professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale University said yesterday morning in a sermon at the Riverside Church, Riverside Drive and 122d Street.
"The high-sounding phrase `the American way' will be used by interested groups, Intent on profit, to cover a multitude of sins against the American and Christian tradition, such sins as lawless violence, tear gas and shotguns, denial of civil liberties," he said. .......
"For never, probably, has there been a time when there was a more vigorous effort to surround social and International questions with such a fog of distortion and prejudice and hysterical appeal to fear. We have touched a new low in a Congressional investigation this Summer, used by some participating in it to whip up fear and prejudice against many causes of human welfare, such as a concern for peace and the rights of labor to bargain collectively."
As many know this era, this dark age of neo conservative creeping fascism, wasn't the first time in our brief history that fear was cynically used to manipulate a nervously receptive population, nor is it likely to be the last. What the Cheney / Bush administration has accomplished in these few years is notable not only for its audacity but for the incredible level of our complicity, of our collective and individual silence.
It is not in the fires nor the explosions of the barricades where revolutions are realized, it is in the small and quiet acts of courage, in the voice that says a simple no to power, the single hand held high before the oppressive state. These are the tools of the patriot, no matter how he cloaks himself, no matter what he wears on his lapel.
Admittedly Barack Obama was not my first choice to represent my party in this battle to regain the presidency. John Edwards spoke words that were closer to those that were already in my mind and offered a version of America that I had also dreamed of and I have been torn between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama since Senator Edward's withdrawal from the contest.
I think that I could make a good case for or against either candidate, they are both capable of turning from the madness of the last near decade and toward a new era of sanity and reason and they both are afflicted with the hairy warts of American politics. Both are capable of beating John McCain and preventing a disastrous continuation of the Cheney/Bush nightmare.
In the end, difficult as it is, I have decided that Barack Obama, because of a simple,yet profound and courageous expression of true patriotism,because of the political courage evidenced by his empty lapel and his refusal to apologize for it gives Obama the edge as my choice for President.