Throughout the journey of life, I have been a collector of precisely five things: baseball cards, books, record albums, Charles Chaplin memorabilia, and political buttons. Of the five, only the books and the Chapliana remain; my dog ate the baseball cards [no, really!], the LPs wore out, and the political pins were stolen while I was living abroad.
Looking back, I truly regret that Blackie, our "mostly Gordon Setter," gnawed on all those cards. If not for this canine caprice, I would probably be on easy street today. I mean, that stash of cards contained some real mint-condition treasures: Mantle, Mays and Snider; Musial, Williams, and Kaline; Banks, Clemente and Feller.
My collection of political buttons -- literally in the hundreds -- included a scarlet penny-sized number emblazoned with "Work for the Red!" [from Earl Browder's 1936 presidential campaign] a stark white one proclaiming "Whack HUAC," and a metallic shoe with a hole-in-the-sole -- which all political junkies in good standing will remember as the symbol of Adlai Stevenson's failed 1952 presidential campaign.
Which brings us to the lapel pin -- or lack thereof -- which, unbelievably, threatens to derail Senator Barack Obama's presidential aspirations. By this point in our interminable campaign season, it is highly likely that more Americans are aware that Senator Obama is frequently photographed sans American flag pin, than know where he stands on Immigration, Healthcare, the Economy or any other issue. This sorry turn of events can largely be laid at the feet of our woebegone Fourth Estate, which specializes at turning freckles into boulders and trivia into treason.
Among the other "essential" or "critical" things that the average American "knows" about the junior senator from Illinois are:
- His pastor is a raving lunatic.
- His wife has only recently become "proud to be an American."
- He thinks that America's working class is "bitter."
- He is a latte-sipping elitist.
- He is a Muslim plant.
Then too, there are scads of Americans whose knowledge of Senator Clinton begins with the words "Monica Lewinsky" and ends with the knowledge that last year, she and her husband made over $20 million.
When it comes to Senator McCain, the words "maverick" and "independent" cohere with stunning frequency. So much so that few seem to realize that he has backtracked on many issues -- most notably the Bush tax cuts. Even fewer seem to care that he warmly accepted the endorsement of the Reverend John Hagee, a man who referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore," and boldly stated that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment against New Orleans.
In the overall scope of things, whether or not Senator Obama wears an American flag lapel pin is of little moment.
It is hauntingly reminiscent of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." Those who took Philosophy 101 will recall that at the beginning of The Republic's seventh book, Socrates speaks about prisoners who have been chained since childhood deep inside a cave. They see shadows on the cave wall; these they accept as reality. A handful, having freed themselves from their shackles, looks about and perceives various shapes and a light source -- that which is causing the shadows on the cave wall. However, they do not recognize these as the source of the shadows. An even smaller handful venture outside the cave; they come closest to perceiving reality.
For Plato, this is an allegory about education -- paideia -- and lack of education -- apaideusia. For purposes of this piece, the distinction is between being blind -- tyflos -- and being responsible -- armodios. That so many have keyed in on the lack of a flag lapel pin is likely the product of sheer blindness; the fact that the matter will not die is an issue of responsibility. And for this, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Although the tabloid turning of "freckles into boulders" is not exactly new, it is nonetheless both lamentable and deeply worrisome. It makes the American electorate far less informed, far less engaged than it should be. It keeps the vast majority of us concentrating on mere shadows when we should be seeking sources of light. In the vast scope of things, it matters not a whit whether Senator Obama wears a flag pin on his lapel. It says nothing about whether he be a patriot or a scoundrel. Hell's bells, I have on occasion been known to wear a Sandy Koufax jersey; it doesn't make me a flame thrower.
But the question persists. Not a day goes by without Senator Obama being asked why he does not wear that American flag pin -- or place his hand over his heart during "The Star Spangled Banner." It is tantamount to asking that age-old question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No answer can suffice, for the questioner is, more often than not, seeking entrapment, not elucidation.
Over the past twenty or so years, I have amassed a new collection of political badges and buttons. I have a Gore/Lieberman in Yiddish, a beat-up Bobby Kennedy, even a "Jerry Brown for President." And yes, I do have an American flag lapel pin.
The trouble is, on the back are stamped the words "Made in China."
©2008 Kurt F. Stone