Oct. 4, 2007 — -- An eagle-eyed reporter for the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, noticed something missing from Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama's, D-Ill., lapels.
"You don't have the American flag pin on. Is that a fashion statement?" the reporter asked, at the end of a brief interview with Obama on Wednesday. "Those have been on politicians since Sept. 12, 2001."
Catch David Wright's report tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson."
The standard political reply to that question might well have been, "My patriotism speaks for itself."
Instead the Illinois senator answered the question at length, explaining that he no longer wears such a pin, at least in part, because of the Iraq War.
"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."
In Iowa, some Obama supporters applauded the candidate's fashion statement. Said Carrie Haurum of Waterloo: "He doesn't need to wear that flag on his lapel. He wears it in his heart."
But talk radio and cable news quickly pounced on the issue.
"It just shows you he's not ready for the big time," conservative Laura Ingrams opined on Fox News.
Said Sean Hannity: "Why do we wear pins? Because our country is under attack!"
The Obama campaign declined to expand on the senator's statement. Spokesman Bill Burton said, "His comments speak for themselves."
But, Obama responded to the mini controversy.
"I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart," Obama said Thursday while campaigning in Independence, Iowa.
"You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that's what we have to lead with, our values and ideals," Obama said.
Of course, if he had said that in the first place, he might have avoided any controversy.
Obama is not alone in not wearing the Stars and Stripes pin.
Most of the candidates do not wear them. The one big exception: former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is rarely without one.
Democrat John Edwards almost always wears his late son's Outward Bound pin.
Hillary Clinton tends not to wear the flag pin, although ABC News off-air reporter Eloise Harper has found several images where she does.
"Well I think there are so many ways that Americans can show their patriotism," she said. "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."
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, wears a Hillary pin.