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Troubled by Obama's Flag Pin Comment

By Ed Koch

I'm backing Hillary Clinton for President.

I predict the Democratic ticket will ultimately be headed by Hillary, with Barack Obama as her vice presidential nominee. Some political commentators say that America is not ready to elect a ticket headed by a woman with a black running mate. Many say that one or the other would be acceptable, but not both.

I disagree. Those people do not appreciate how far America has come in race and gender relations. This is the Golden Age of America, an age of opportunity for all. We had an intimation of this new age in the 2000 presidential race, when Joe Lieberman was more popular running as vice president on the Democratic ticket then Al Gore at the top of the ticket.

Having said that, and still of the same mind, I am troubled by a recent comment by Senator Obama. On October 3rd, according to The New York Times, "Senator Barack Obama said Thursday that he stopped wearing an American flag pin in his lapel years ago, saying the symbol has become an empty substitute for true patriotism." Obama's statement was "My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart." The Times reported, "he told a television reporter one day earlier that he stopped wearing an American flag pin shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks." In a television interview, he said such symbols "become a substitute for, I think, true patriotism," adding, "I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest."

In explaining his position later, he said, "Somebody noticed I wasn't wearing a flag label pin, and I told folks, well you know what? I haven't probably worn that pin in a very long time. I wore it right after 9/11. But after a while, you start noticing people wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. Not voting to make sure that disability payments were coming out on time."

Wearing a flag pin certainly does not make you more patriotic than someone who does not wear one. Senator John McCain, a genuine war hero, does not, according to the Daily News "wear a pin regularly."

I don't wear a flag pin and never have, but it is not because I think those who do are jingoists, but because I don't wear pins, jewelry or rings. I don't like to put holes in my clothing, so I rarely put on campaign buttons unless as happens, I am pressed by a candidate who I am supporting who insists on putting it on while I stand there fit to be tied, but unwilling to speak up so as not to embarrass him or her. I do wear a medical bracelet which gives my medical information - a stroke in 1987 and heart attack in 1999 and daily required doses of Coumadin, a blood thinner.

But Obama's justification simply jarred me. He wore the flag pin "right after 9/11," but then stopped. He mentioned as his excuse the country's deplorable failure to provide all the medical care veterans need. In fact, that issue didn't arise until years later. He has made the key to his platform that he was against the war with Iraq. But following 9/11, we went to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan, a regime harboring al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda publicly took credit for the World Trade Center terrorist act which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths of innocent civilians in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. The war in Iraq came in 2003, so what we are hearing from Obama is a confused statement mixing up the two wars. Does he now believe the United States response of waging war in Afghanistan after 9/11 was wrong? Does he believe the U.S. flag now belongs only to supporters of the war against Iraq, which war he opposed?

I have always believed it is a mistake to let your opponents claim that they are true defenders of patriotic symbols such as the U.S. flag, whether in the Vietnam War or currently the war in Iraq. I have never doubted the patriotism of my opponents who take a position on a war that is different than mine. Obama's presidential campaign opponents have said they will not criticize him. I will. And so, I think, will voters in the 2008 election.


The President's veto of the S-CHIP children's medical insurance program is an act as foolish as his effort to privatize Social Security, which was devastatingly, for him, defeated by Congress. Karl Rove's insistence on the White House supporting that effort established for me that Rove was not the political genius he was reputed to be and was leading the President into a battle that would be as devastating for him as the battle at Little Bighorn when Crazy Horse took General George Armstrong Custer to the cleaners.

However, if the President is to follow his political philosophy, and remain the protector of the insurance companies and prescription drug companies, then he must follow his credo of not allowing the expansion of government programs. He must also reduce their current reach, whether needed or not, in order to protect the private sector and the wealth of monopolies. Therefore, from the president's point of view, it makes perfect sense to veto S-CHIP, which is a step towards national medical insurance for all children, including families who are financially able to purchase private insurance.

The fact that the President and Congress are covered under programs that provide them with medical insurance, that he and Republicans refer to as socialized medicine, including the greatest of successful social programs, e.g., Social Security and Medicare, which are the envy of the world, conflicts with his reasoning and philosophy of government, is apparently irrelevant.

The President is consistent even when he is wrong. I, like most Americans, believe we are immensely shortsighted not to have an insurance program that provides universal medical coverage for all of us. There is no doubt that S-CHIP is an effort in that direction, and I support it. It is possible if there is a citizen outcry demanding an override of the President's veto, that it will happen, because of the congressional election next year. Americans generally rush to the defense of children and hopefully, will here. On the practical side, whoever is ultimately covered under the existing or an amended law can be brought into the system by requiring the parents to come to school to prove they have enrolled the child in the available insurance program as they must prove the child is inoculated before the child is admitted to class.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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