On Veteran's Day I'm thinking back to an October dust storm that was whirling around Barack Obama. As it happens frequently in political races, a lot of valuable air time that could be used to define candidates' positions on important issues is wasted over inconsequential silly things like what's with Hillary's clapping to the audience when she comes on-stage? How much did John Edwards pay for a haircut? Is Rudy still keeping his drag queen costume in his closet?
Obama's dust storm dealt with his no longer wearing an American flag lapel pin. When questioned about it on the talk circuit back in October, he stirred up a big brouhaha by trying to give a thoughtful response to an inconsequential, silly, and shallow question. Obama said that he, like many Americans, wanted to wear our flag after the 9/11 attacks as a show of solidarity with the people of the U.S. And now, six years later, he'd stopped wearing the pin because it's too easy.
Like a lot of the things we find ourselves doing to "support" the war--bumper stickers, yard signs, moments of silence at public gatherings, prayers from pulpits--it's just patriotism lite. While many of us never forget to wear our American flag pins--or even worse-patriotic sweatshirts and hats--a disproportionate number of young men and women sacrifice too much in Iraq and Afghanistan while we go on with our daily lives, most of us not affected or changed in any way by what happens in the Middle East.
A week or so before all this wearing of the flag controversy happened, we were in yet another empty public relations battle. General David Petraeus was appearing before Congress to report on the progress of Bush's troop surge. In order to provoke the public--and hopefully our Congressional leaders--into evaluating Petraeus' testimony more critically instead of giving him the easy pass that Bush expected, MoveOn.org ran the infamous "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" ad in the New York Times.
This was just the red herring supporters of the surge were looking for. Instead of listening carefully to the General's assessment for true signs of progress, it was--much like wearing a lapel pin--much easier for Congress to grandstand instead of question. Oh the righteous indignation against MoveOn.org, the New York Times, and any American who thought it was time to listen critically to what we were being told about the actual progress and projections for success in the region! The great battle of the Stay the Coursers vs the Cut 'n Runners was on!
In all the furor, David Shuster, D.C. reporter for MSNBC, delivered the most telling blow in the whole debate. In an interview he conducted with Marsha Blackburn, Congresswoman from Tennessee and water carrier for Bush talking points, Shuster allowed her to go on and on about the unpatriotic undermining of MoveOn.org and the financial whoring of the NY Times for running the piece just to build readership. Meanwhile, members of Congress were trying desperately to give General Petraeus an opportunity to tell us what must be done to win the war in Iraq.
After letting Blackburn almost empty her water bucket, Shuster dealt the death blow question. It went like this: "Congresswoman Blackburn, a nineteen year old soldier from your district was killed last week in Iraq. Can you tell me his name?" Unfortunately, that young soldier's name was not in the good Congresswoman's talking points--all she could do was to backpedal rapidly, saying that she and her staff were in close contact with all military families with dead or injured family members. Shuster then closed the interview with this question: "Why? Do you not think it as important to be informed on your constituents' losses in the war as it is to know the NY Times' motivations for running an anti-war ad?"
If only being a patriot in times of war were as easy as wearing an American flag on our lapel. Unfortunately, we all know it's not that simple. Our duty as a citizen is to be informed--getting our information from as many sources as possible. How did we, as Jon Stewart says, get ourselves in this "Messopotamia"? Who are the real terrorists? Why do they hate the U.S. so much? What's the difference between a Sunni and Shiite? How many soldiers have been killed since March 2003? More importantly, do our elected leaders know the answers to these questions? I say if, at any given point, they can't answer these questions then they need to get off the stage--we need bold, deliberate leaders, not a bunch of cowardly lions. Do all this and then, if you like, wear the flag.
- Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.