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Commentary Last Updated: Apr 22nd, 2008 - 00:35:02

Patriotism or jingoism?
By Mary Shaw
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 22, 2008, 00:13

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I am sick and tired of the media pundits pointing fingers at Barack Obama and questioning his patriotism because he does not wear a flag pin on his lapel. At the recent Democratic presidential candidates' debate here in Philadelphia, the issue came up again, and more time was wasted on it.

We are involved in an unpopular and very costly war in Iraq. We are torturing our prisoners. The U.S. Constitution is under siege by those who have sworn to protect it. Our economy is in a recession. The housing market just tanked. Our jobs continue to move to India and China. But the media would rather talk about flag pins.

It is ironic that flag pins are equated with patriotism. After all, the rules of flag etiquette imply quite the opposite. According to a flag etiquette summary at, you should "never use the U.S. flag as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery, festooned, [or] decoration in general."

Furthermore, the rules continue, "Never use any part of the U.S. flag as a costume or athletic uniform. A flag patch may be affixed to uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations."

By patriotic organizations, I think they mean groups like the VFW, not members of a presidential campaign. The latter is not by definition a patriotic organization, it's a political one. Therefore, the flag pin becomes part of a political costume -- against the rules.

Now let's take a look at someone who does wear a flag pin as part of his political costume.

George W. Bush wore a flag pin in 2003 as he launched his war of aggression against a nation that posed no threat to us.

George W. Bush wore a flag pin as his inner circle approved the use of torture. And then he wore a flag pin as he looked into the camera and said, "We do not torture."

George W. Bush wore a flag pin as high-level White House officials outed a covert CIA agent.

George W. Bush wore a flag pin as he authorized the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.

If that is patriotism, then patriotism is overrated.

But no, that is not patriotism. It is jingoism. And jingoism is something we should shun in a candidate for elected office.

Words speak louder than a flag pin. And actions speak louder than words. Let those be our guidelines in selecting our candidate of choice.

By the way, aren't those flag pins made in China?

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

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