Peggy Noonan has a pretty fair column today about unashamed patriotism, but she gets tangled up.
In the late 1960s a lot of young people and liberals thought you were a dope to love your country, “to wave the flag.” But that is also the precise moment that American flag lapel pins first became popular. When a local businessman wore one of them, it was as if he were wearing a sign that said “I support my country, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad.”
Twenty five years ago at CBS News a major network star said to a newsroom friend of mine, who still wore his pin, “I wish I could wear one of those.” But, he explained, it might be “misinterpreted.” My friend thought, but did not say: Yes, it would be interpreted in a way that suggested you love your country. How terrible.
It’s a very nice column, and it puts its finger on something important. But Noonan elides something else important: how and why that CBSer thought that a flag pin would be “mis-interpreted.”
In many ways over the last umpteen years — probably starting with the Vietnam protests, but I’m of an age where it might have started earlier and I didn’t notice — the flag has been co-opted as a symbol of the Right. More accurate: the Left rejected it as part of its anti-war rhetoric, and the Right was more than happy to take the symbol and run with it.
Rather than a patriotic symbol, the flag too often is used as a symbol to advance a partisan agenda. David Letterman got it right once: he noticed that as the election got closer, Dubya would put more and more flags on his rostrum; as a response and a gag, Letterman started putting flags behind him, more and more, until his stage was full of them. All the while, he was running clips that showed how the Republicans were quite literally covering themselves with the flag, more each day.
Call me a cynic, but I’m enough of a journalist and enough of a history student to know that when someone starts waving flags, it’s time to start listening. When someone insists that you wave flags, it’s time to start fighting.
I love my country. I wore a flag pin after 9-11 because it was the only appropriate gesture I could think of. I won’t wear one now because I think the politicians running my country are wrong in just so many ways.
If wearing a flag pin can raise that kind of issue, the guy from CBS is right to not wear one.
And if someone can call him unpatriotic because he doesn’t wear one — and if the allegation can be met with anything else but a snort — that’s only evidence that he’s right.