Dick Polman in today’s local rag. The entire column is worth the five minutes it takes to read it:
Obama warrants all kinds of scrutiny; legitimate questions can be raised about how he’d actually end the war, how he’d tackle the Social Security entitlement woes, how he’d pay for his ambitious domestic ideas, and whether he has the intellectual tools to trump his inexperience. But those who smear do so because they understand the potential power of visceral argument. It is so much easier to exploit people’s fears and ignorance than to debate Obama’s ideas directly.
Consider, for instance, the Pledge of Allegiance flap. A mystery e-mail has been making the rounds, featuring a Time magazine photo that shows Obama at an Iowa event last September with his fingers entwined at waist level, supposedly during the recitation of the pledge. The e-mail stated: “He refused to not only put his hand on his heart during the pledge, but refused to say the pledge . . . how in hell can a man like this expect to be our next Commander-in-Chief?”
This, in turn, is sparking outrage on the right. The other day, commentator Linda Chavez huffed: “You can’t imagine conservatives refusing to fly the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.” Georgia Republican congressman Jack Kingston declared on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher the other night that “the guy would not say the Pledge of Allegiance . . . that is disturbing to Americans.” Therefore, Kingston asked, with respect to Obama and his spouse: “Where do they stand on America?”
But the e-mail is a lie, and these people are perpetuating the lie. It turns out – and this was reported long ago – that the photo was snapped during the playing of the national anthem, not during the pledge. (By the way, it’s amusing that conservatives are so hung up about the pledge, given its actual pedigree. It was authored in 1892 by a prominent American socialist, Francis Bellamy, who lectured widely on the evils of capitalism and conceived the pledge as a socialist credo, especially the words “with liberty and justice for all.”)
Equally specious is the outcry about Obama’s decision not to fly the flag on his suit jacket. William Kristol brought it up again in his Feb. 25 New York Times column. As he sees it, Obama is insulting everybody who chooses to wear a flag pin. Kingston, the congressman, was on MSNBC a few nights ago, stirring the pot, saying that “everybody wears them,” yet “here’s a guy that doesn’t want to do it.”
This all began last October, after a TV reporter in Iowa filed a report that Obama was pinless. It turned out Obama had been pinless for years, ever since the start of the Iraq war. On the stump in Iowa, he explained why: “You start noticing people wearing a flag pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with the resources they need. . . . I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart.”
In other words, Obama was insisting that true patriotism should be about substance, not symbols. At least he articulated a reason. As I well recall, while watching a Republican presidential debate last autumn, seven of the eight candidates did not wear flag pins. I just cruised John McCain’s campaign Web site. In the official photos, he is not wearing a flag pin. Then I looked at Kingston again on MSNBC, the guy who says that “everybody” wears the pin. He isn’t wearing one, either.