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Discuss: The Politics of the Pin

I confess, I didn’t watch the presidential debate on Wednesday night.  Partially because I was trying to decipher the barely legible directions that came with the bookcase that I was struggling to build by myself, but mostly because working in politics has cured me of my previously ardent love of politics.  

Once you’ve glimpsed behind the curtain, it’s hard to keep pretending that The Wizard is great and powerful.  It’s so much less infuriating and more informative to just read the transcript in the morning.

Despite my reservations, I did turn on the debate for all of 48 seconds.  And in that brief span, I noticed something: Mitt Romney’s flag pin was bigger than President Obama’s flag pin.

“Wait?  What the hell?  Did I really just think that thought?  Am I seriously measuring flag pins?” [facepalm]

I turned off the debate immediately and resolved to seek out some kind of treatment program.  But the next day, a brief review of the headlines on Google News revealed that I wasn’t the only one breaking out the ruler.  (So the disease is contagious, you say?)  

The earliest photo that I could find of a President wearing a flag pin was Richard Nixon in 1970.  Maybe he was the first, maybe he wasn’t, but over the past few decades (and since 9/11 in particular) the nation’s collective obsession with American flag pins has reached laughable proportions.

When then-Sen. Barack Obama stopped wearing a flag pin in 2007, he was forced to explain why he no longer wore his national loyalty on his lapel.  Earlier this year, Mitt Romney took a beating in a primary debate, and some speculated that his lack of a flag pin was the cause.  And more than a decade later, the former head of ABC News is still answering questions about why his reporters and anchors were the only ones not wearing flag pins after September 11th.

I have never understood why so many journalists and pundits and conspiracy theorists are obsessed with flag pins.  Because if wearing a pin is so important, why make it optional?  

Let’s require every American to wear one.  We can distribute them in the public schools and post offices.  And then, we can establish some kind of punishment for people who don’t wear them, nothing serious, maybe trash collection for a first offense and deportation for recidivists.  After all, without the pins, how will we be able to separate the true patriots from the poseurs?

What? You think love of country and national pride should be defined by a person’s beliefs and actions and not by a one-inch hunk of metal probably made in China?  How adorably naive of you.  

Most politicos, commentators, journalists and citizens will tell you that the flag pin debate is completely ridiculous.  That what you wear on your lapel matters little compared to what you feel in your heart.  But they still engage in it, and we still engage it, and then we wonder how we all got talking about it in the first place.

Here’s hoping that the staff on President Obama’s campaign resist the temptation to buy him a bigger flag pin for the next debate.  But if they do need a more visible symbol of the President’s patriotism, may I suggest a tasteful American flag belt buckle?  That’ll give ole’ Mitt a run for his money.

So what do you guys think about Pin-Gate?  Does it matter that a candidate isn’t wearing a pin, or if a candidate refuses to wear a pin?  Or is this all just fodder for the 24-hour news cycle?



  1. H says:

    No one made a “pieces of flair” joke from Office Space! Obama is Jennifer Aniston!

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Ann says:

    I think Presidential candidates wearing an American flag pin when our nation is at war is not a bad thing. I actually have been looking for a tasteful flag brooch I can wea with a sheath dress or on a suit jacket, one that is not giant and glittery like the ones that Palin wore in 2008.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  3. Sara says:

    Belle's not saying that wearing a pin is a bad thing, she's saying that measuring the size of pins and insisting candidates wear them is.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  4. m says:

    I don't care for flag pins myself, but I don't think they're a fashion vice.

    What really irks me, though, is the implication that if you don't wear one, then you must not love America.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  5. Melissa says:

    honestly, it doesn't matter to me (in part because of the made-in-china argument you have above) BUT i do know that it will matter to a lot of people who will be voting on perception and not substance.

    people voting on things other than the issues? how adorably naive.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  6. JK says:

    I agree that making this unofficially required of our candidates is absurd. They are obviously patriotic or they would not care to even run for office. I even think having to wear the red/blue ties must get exhausting. What if they want to wear a green one? pink? Think that their color is lilac? 🙂

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  7. Sam S. says:

    Thank you, Belle, for writing this! The whole flag hubub over the past few years has been incredibly irritating. One would hope that if you are running for office that you love this country and you don't need a piece of metal from China to prove it. Let's vote on substance and not on fluff. Thank you!

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  8. IM says:

    My husband noticed this on Wednesday night and when he pointed it out we both just burst out laughing because it seemed so…strategic?

    I think it is a lovely sentiment, just like you might wear a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness or a yellow livestrong bracelet. But I think it is extremely silly to infer that if you are not wearing a flag pin, you are any less American. And at the end of the day, I think the notion that the size of someone's flag pin could sway the race is preposterous.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  9. J says:

    The question that appeared on my Twitter feed during the debate was not how large the pins were, but what the strange black dot in the middle of Romney's was. It looked like a poorly disguised hidden camera. Did anyone else notice it?

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  10. CH says:

    J – I also wondered about that! I personally don't care whether a politician wears a flag pin, but I found that dot very distracting.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  11. Shannon says:

    I loathe flag pins and find them tacky. I love America. Sadly, I think about 90% of Americans are too simpleminded to understand that those two statements are not mutually exclusive.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  12. Ann says:

    J and CH, it's the star logo for the Secret Service. The pin was a gift to him from his SS detail. It is sold in the SS store here in dc.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  13. Maggie R says:

    On the same topic I've always wondered something myself. I have a few organizations that I keep very close to my heart and would like to wear their pins during their respective times of year (I'm thinking mostly about ovarian cancer because it is something I have battled for a few years now). My question is, is it appropriate for me to wear these identifying pins when I'm representing my boss? I can't imagine my boss would disapprove but I feel it mostly falls into a category of things I should be doing on my own time (like campaign work).

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  14. HM says:

    It shows the lack of maturity when a person says they are voting for a certain candidate but cannot give a reason why other than “He looks/sounds more presidential.” When I was in grade school we had mock votes where I would pick the guy with the better sounding name. My first real vote made me take on the responsibility of picking the proper candidate based on their philosophy and how I felt it fit with the direction I wanted the country to go toward. It's sad to think of how many people I know who still vote with grade school choices like that. They help decide the fate without knowing what is going on.

    I wonder if by wearing the Secret Service flag pin Romney was given by his protectors was a way to state that they are behind his election. In any event, it did get him noticed more.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  15. t says:

    J – I noticed that too! Now you've got me wondering about the hidden camera thing. It wouldn't be the first time that was done, now would it?

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  16. Parker - Boardroombelles says:

    Personally, I am in favor of stripes and stars socks, subtly revealed by the candidate in an interview when he leans back, props a knee on the opposing leg and nonchalantly responds to a question. That or an arm tattoo that reveals when the candidate literally rolls up his sleeves in a debate to better demonstrate how he literally tackles America's problems. And while we're at it, let's make that tattoo mandatory for every American, too. Maybe that subtle nod to history will remind us that a patriotic branding obsession spells trouble and a pathetic distortion of focus.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  17. AD says:

    Love this post Belle – totally agree w/ you.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  18. serena says:

    You're hilarious, and I completely agree.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  19. Belle says:

    J: It wasn't a dot. It was the shield of the US Secret Service. Apparently, the pin was gifted to Romney by his protection detail.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  20. Katherine says:

    Funny, I had exactly the same thought then went through exactly the same conversation with myself. It's become one of those things that a politician MUST do. Silly.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  21. Kate says:

    Whether a candidate wears a flag pin is such a First World problem. We should focus our attention on real issues.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  22. Ann says:

    Kate, if you don't care about First World problems, then why are you reading this blog?

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  23. CynthiaW says:

    It really has to be one of the most superficial and asinine things that people focus on – whether it has to do with who is wearing a flag pin, what color tie a candidate wears, what the First Lady wears on vacation, etc., etc. The very fact that it's become somewhat de rigueur amongst the political set means that it means absolutely nothing – it's just one more thing that they put on because it's expected.

    The fact that journalists or pundits focus on it at all is just another sign that they shouldn't be taken seriously as real journalists anymore.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  24. CynthiaW says:

    I should also probably mention that Pinterest has so saturated the Internet culture at this point that it's the first thing that I though of when I saw the headline – that some kind of political dustup had broken out over what people were pinning there.

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  25. n.b. says:

    You are always a treat to read, Belle, but this is one of your best! And if Ralph Lauren reads your blog, he is designing the belt buckle right now.

    October 6, 2012/Reply
  26. Ella says:

    “…because working in politics has cured me of my previously ardent love of politics.” THIS! I'm going to revise this to explain to my family why I have close to zero interest in hearing about the debate or even the race. The apocalypse is probably statistically more likely than the chance that our state will go blue any time in the next century.

    October 6, 2012/Reply
  27. Cara says:

    I wish I'd seen this the day it was posted. I have a great deal of respect for all veterans and the flag. My father and 2 of my uncles were combat veterans. My father died from an illness most likely stemming from his service and his funeral flag is one of the most touching mementos we have of him. I don't say this for pity or to shut down opposing opinions, only for context and to fend off any potential unpatriotic claims for what I'm about to say. 🙂

    Images of veterans or small children saluting the flag always get me a little misty because not only are they lovely and charming, but they're sincere. I don't care if someone wants to wear a flag pin but wearing it as a prop or a nod to peer pressure disrespects the flag.

    This compulsion to stick the flag on everything dilutes the impact of seeing a flag proudly displayed. I'm not moved when I see a flag magnet stuck to a dirty car, screen printed on boxer shorts, or drawn on the insole of plastic flip flops so that you're essentially walking on it. I've even seen American flag tissues. Because the flag shouldn't touch the ground but blowing your nose on it makes you a patriot. Right.

    I'm not perfect. I chafed when my homeroom teacher demanded we all stand for the pledge of allegiance every morning. I even support a protestor's right to burn the flag. But enough already with the greed and the posturing when it comes to the flag. It isn't a weapon or marketing opportunity. It's a symbol of hope, unity and our country – warts and all.

    Treatise over. I think I've expended all my patriotic energy for the year. I may need to be carried to the voting booth. 🙂

    October 10, 2012/Reply