Maybe the campaign message Sen. Barack Obama was looking for was sitting on his lapel the whole time.
Or, more accurately, it was what wasn't on his suit jacket that got Obama, D-Ill., talking in the thoughtful, cerebral, and extremely non-political manner that seems more like his comfort zone than anything he says on the stump. Asked in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, why he doesn't choose to wear an American flag pin, Obama gave what sounded like a genuine answer:
"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," Obama said, ABC's David Wright and Sunlen Miller report. "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."
Wow -- who speaks like this? Certainly not someone who wants to become president, not in the old way -- and that's the point. Right-wing gabbers are buzzing about this (and "that pin," we should recall, depicts nothing more controversial than the stars and stripes) -- but is this even slightly bad for Obama with the Democratic base? Those would be the same folks he was trying to reach this week with a (quickly overshadowed) speech commemorating his longstanding opposition to the war.
Obama didn't plan the exchange -- it came in response to a reporter's question -- but he decided to embrace it. "Campaign aides, concerned that his remarks might be portrayed as unpatriotic, chose not to let the moment pass," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes. "So Mr. Obama addressed the matter directly shortly after arriving here in Independence, where the crowd was oblivious to the back-and-forth." Said Obama: "My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart."
By talking about his decision to drop the flag pin so openly, Obama "risked a backlash, even though most of the presidential candidates from both major parties aren't wearing the flag pins regularly these days," Michael Saul and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News.
But if Democrats are sick of Bush-era jingoism, this could provide Obama a much-needed opening. Even Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., couldn't really disagree (and she's not much for pins, either): "There are so many ways that Americans can show their patriotism. Wearing a flag pin, flying the flag, pledging allegiance to the flag, talking about the values that are important to America, teaching your children about what a great nation we have, standing up for those values, speaking out -- there is just so many ways that one can demonstrate patriotism."
The AP's Nedra Pickler spells out Obama's keys to victory -- in Iowa (where his organization is cranking) and his nation-wide hope that "hundreds of thousands of new voters fired up enough to actually turn out." This sounds so simple: "1. Keep Clinton's support down. . . . 2. Keep Edwards from surging ahead. . . . 3. Continue building Obama's support among both traditional and nontraditional voters." Pickler writes, "The campaign is trying to drum up supporters who are often overlooked in politics, with much of the effort geared toward blacks and young people even high school seniors."