Tale (of) the Pin on the Donkey

By Saira Anees

May 15, 2008 3:27pm


Something interesting made its way onto Sen. Barack Obama’s lapel on Monday — and it stayed there for three days: an American flag pin.

Obama told reporters on his campaign plane Wednesday night that he put the pin on at a veterans’ event in West Virginia on Monday, because a veteran handed it to him "who said it was important."

Per ABC’s Sunlen Miller, Obama continued: "This is an issue that is a phony issue because I was never opposed to wearing a flag pins, I’ve worn flag pins in the past. I said very specifically when I was asked about it that I had worn flag pins after 9/11 and that I had chosen not to wear one because I didn’t want to be perceived as wearing patriotism on my chest, but not voting or advocating on behalf of veterans in a patriotic way."

"And some people took that as a slight against people who wore flag pins. It couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a commentary on politicians and folks in Washington who sometimes are very good about saluting our soldiers when they come home, but then don’t follow up with budgets that make sure they are getting treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. So it was a commentary about out politics, not about individuals who wear the flag with pride."

As often comes from Obama, this in an interesting, multi-layered answer to a relatively simple question. You’ll recall that Obama made this more of an issue than it probably needed to be when he answered an Iowa reporter’s question last October about why he wasn’t wearing a pin with a longer-than-necessary discourse.

"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."

"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," he said.

Since then, that decision has stood out to Obama critics as an example of elitism and a perceived lack of patriotism. He’s been asked about it regularly on the trail; Karl Rove said his response to the question in Iowa showed Obama to be "coolly detached and very arrogant," and Republicans are clearly hoping to use it as part of their efforts to frame Obama in a potential fall match-up.

Then, as Obama tried to show that he can be the candidate of working-class America, in West Virginia and its aftermath, the flag pin reappeared. Just wearing the little thing is the easy way to quiet the persistent questions — but this looks like a slightly different politician than the man with the nuanced explanation for why he "won’t wear that pin on my chest."

How long will it be there? (Obama has not public events Thursday, but you can bet reporters will be checking out his suit jacket on Friday.)

– Rick Klein

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