Sunday, March 02, 2008
Pinning My Hopes...
[Here comes another weekend non-medical rant. This one is purely political.]
Might it really happen that Barack Obama wins the nomination and then loses the election for the lack of a lapel pin? Or a hand not over his heart? If the right wing bloggers and their oily machine (and even the "mainstream") have anything to say about it, he will. Throughout some parts of the political world, people are screaming about his pinless lapel. The horror!
Patriotism is no more about a lapel pin than love is about a charm bracelet. Or than support of our troops is about slapping a magnet on your car. In fact, when I think about the destruction to America's future and its ideals and laws that has been wreaked by the lapel-pin-wearing occupants of the West Wing of late, I'd propose the opposite relationship may well be true. There seems a smugness, a sense that as long as one wears the pin, any behavior is exempt from criticism: look at me, I'm a patriot. So sit the hell down and shut the hell up.
In choosing not to wear a lapel flag, I think Senator Obama is saying, "I'm not about short cuts and symbolism, which are so easy and so deceptive. I'm about saying what I mean and doing what I say, and letting that speak for me." Anyone can wear a pin and hope to hide behind it. Lapel pins are inexpensive, and not just in dollars. In the current climate, I find them a lot tainted and a little suspicious. And, mind you, I've gone to veterans' political rallies wearing my Purple Heart pin. Proudly.
Sometimes I've wished that he'd just poked one through that little hole and moved on. Why give the screamers a screed? But then I think how principled and brave it is to eschew a symbol that has been perverted and diluted and which, in its ubiquity among the slimiest of politicians, has become meaningless at best, and a perversion of patriotism at worst. Who'd want to accessorize like Tom Delay and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove? Or this guy. I think how utterly cynical, given the challenges that face the US, is the outrage of those who spread the smear, and how credulous in those who buy it. But on it rages. For a lot of voters -- maybe most -- it's easier to latch onto a spurious and simple-minded meme than to sink one's teeth into the meat of our problems. Rove knew that, and played it like a harp from hell.
What, in fact, is patriotism? Surely it's not as simple as what you wear. Is it love of country? I suppose it is; but what does that mean? What does it require, and how do you show it? Much as I admired JFK, when he said "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," I had questions. For whom is the government established, itself or us? Is it enough to work hard, follow the rules, educate yourself before you vote (and vote!), pay taxes, give to charities if you can afford it? Does the average person owe more? Obedience, acquiescence? Conversely, can you be considered a patriot if you render prisoners to other countries to be tortured? Is it patriotic to put the country trillions of dollars in debt and walk away, leaving it for others to fix? Wearing a lapel pin, it seems, absolves one of many sins. "Patriotism" has become just a concept with which to bludgeon one's rivals. Lightly it is that we use the word; empty it is of meaning. Like Yoda am I writing.
Barack Obama has been criticized for having too hopeful a vision of what's possible. But when he argues for a new kind of politics that brings people together over old divisions, when he says that the changes we need to restore viability require support from the bottom up (as opposed to the current top down, we're-in-charge-and-you're-not approach), it simply cannot be seen as the words of someone who doesn't love and want something good for his country, head in the clouds or not. Lapel pin or not.
To me, this is what's most attractive about Barack Obama: when he talks about "change" he's referring to exactly this kind of bullshit. He's asking (and, I'd aver, not just for his own sake) that people resoundingly reject politics that is all about fear and smear. The kind that, rather than discussing and trying to resolve the challenges we face, resorts to lies and innuendo to destroy a candidate. There is, I'd like to hope (and sometimes actually allow myself to believe-- oops, well, there it went again -- that was fast!) a huge portion of the country that's sick and tired of it. But the only (slim, very slim) chance that it could disappear is if the electorate stands up and demands it. By electing someone who specifically decries and overtly eschews it, and by unelecting those who don't. On both sides of the aisle. A pox on 'em all.
What if patriotism is redefined? What if we had a president who implored people to stay involved by letting their elected representatives know what they think, clearly and often? What if he said to the nation, "Now we need to address healthcare (or the deficit, or energy policy, or....) This is where I think we start, but we need legislators to come together. Whether you agree with my ideas or not, let your congressperson and senators know, demand they get to work. Email them; keep the pressure on them. They will respond to numbers, or risk losing their jobs." It's pretty simple, tapping out an email. But in that context, what could be more patriotic? What if people actually did it? Isn't that what Barack Obama is asking of us?
And as to the hand-over-heart thing: next time you're at a baseball game, look around during the Anthem. You'll see guys with hats on, beer in hand (bet they have "United We Stand" bumper stickers.) You'll also see people standing attentively, singing along with hats in hand and arms at their sides (that'd be me, doing the bass harmony). Bet those folks are all glad to be there and not in another country. Bet their devotion to country is a lot less than one running for President, risking it all.