*First a reminder: I appear on several episodes of the new History Channel show "The Universe" starting with one on March 11.* Not necessarily a brag. Sometimes the producers deliberately chose to show a fellow’s dopiest moments! But this is a good show. Well above average.
Last time, I offered three issues that should get up-front treatment by the next Democratic Party nominee -- National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals.
Following up on one of those, tonight I want to put forward an unconventional suggestion -- a way that Barack Obama (assuming he is eventually nominated) might neutralize the GOP’s purported “patriotism advantage.” A way, in fact, that he might turn it around, to benefit the America we’re all fighting for.
But first, before focusing on patriotism, an aside for those who agree with me that science and technology should also be part of the 2008 national debate. Let me refer folks to a fascinating recent blog by Marc Andreessen, inventor of the web browser, who talks about “my hour and a half with Barack Obama.” It is a vouch-for by someone who earned his bona fides as an innovator and world-improver. Give it a look.
BACK TO A GENUINE PATRIOTISM
A week ago, Gregory Rodriguez, in an LA Times op-ed, examined the tactical error that Barack Obama made, when he chose to eschew the wearing of an American flag lapel pin. Quoth Rodriguez:
Last October, when responding to questions as to why he stopped wearing an American flag on his lapel, Obama argued that such symbols "became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism," and added that he had decided not to wear the pin because he was "going to try to tell the American people what I believe, what will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to patriotism."
...But ceding old-fashioned patriotic symbolism to the GOP is neither smart politics nor good for the social reform agendas that liberals like Obama tend to advocate. According to polls, most Americans do consider themselves pretty patriotic
The entire essay is well-worth reading. It offers sage advice. And yet, as I said in an earlier missive, Mr. Obama will have to step carefully and correct this situation in just the right way. In a manner that does not make him look weak, vacillating or like someone caving under pressure - all of which are political sins, as devastating as any purported lack of patriotic zeal. This impression, sure to be leaped-on by right wing attack dogs, would make restoring the pin a hollow gesture and source of derision.
That is, unless....
...unless there were a way out. One calling for boldness, ingenuity and guts, but also offering a potential win-win situation.
The premise: Democrats must stop approaching patriotism as a hot potato, to be handled gingerly, and instead clasp it to the bosom, assertively. They should broach it eagerly. Make the topic their own. As FDR, Truman and JFK did.
Picture a stirring moment, during Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver...
“By now, fellow Democrats, you’ll have noticed volunteers moving among you, carrying baskets filled with little pins. Some of you wondered about the real reason why I took off my own American flag pin, months ago. And now it’s time to reveal that reason to you.
“I took it off because I refuse to give in to the hollow gestures of those who have demeaned patriotism in this country, by making it a matter of totems and “sides.” A matter of holier-than-thou loyalty tests and swift boat character assassination.
“But I am here to tell you now that there is a second half to my message. I never meant to let those braggarts and armchair patriots drive me away for long, from a symbol that I cherish. For very good reasons, I chose this moment, standing in front of you, to reclaim that symbol... and I ask you to join me in reclaiming it, as well.
“Let’s admit that Democrats -- in our eager rush to solve practical problems -- have sometimes forgotten the power of symbols, to our own detriment, and that of the nation. But today, let’s remember those who died to keep this country united. Those who fought to make it more just and free. Those who made America better with solutions using both markets and government. Those who marched and argued and legislated and innovated, in order to make our country the brightest beacon of hope in four thousand years.
“And those who we are educating today, to be leaders in a better tomorrow.
“The American flag has been misused at times, but nothing should and can take away from us the core thing that it represents... that progress. That eager willingness to better ourselves. That hope.
“And so, I say to all of you, never let this flag be a burden on your neighbors, a way to diminish them, a test that they must pass. Do not let anyone demand that you worship it, or wear it all the time! That’s not what it stands for.
“But do show it, wear it, wave it proudly some of the time! Never let the word “patriotism” slip from your vocabulary, just because others screech it and abuse it. Especially when the self righteous have so let our flag and nation down.
“Join me in reclaiming patriotism for the reasonable, moderate, tolerant and decent men, women and children of America, who are willing to argue and compete and cooperate with each other fairly, seeking progress and solutions, the way this very nation was established. A patriotism that is based, above all, upon the decency, savvy and courage of every individual... every citizen.
“Wear it, my friends, not because narrowminded fools would browbeat you over symbols, but because you love what it represents, as I do, the nation and civilization that Abraham Lincoln called the best hope of humankind.”
Addendum: Hillary goes negative. Should Barack reply in kind?
Here’s where you wish you had a win-win. A way for Mr. Obama to score some zingers, while not getting petty or following Senator Clinton down the low road.
And one of you made a cool suggestion. The idea of creating a positive “negative ad’. How might that be done? Well, let's see. Try showing clips of Bill Clinton at his best. Some of his soaring rhetoric about hope and responsibility, in 1992 and so on.
Then follow that with a question “Were these ‘just words?’”
How classy and utterly jiu jitsu. It disses HRC’s recent behavior and tactics, while actually praising her husband! It shows her supporters what a silly-ass thing it is, to tear away at a messenger of inspiration, instead of stepping up with inspiration of their own.
What a judo move!
Unlike many other recent Primaries, only Democrats can vote in the coming Democratic contest in Pennsylvania; independents, who have strongly supported Obama in other states, are barred. The state's 984,000 registered voters who are not members of either major party — plus any wavering Republicans — have only until March 24 to sign up as Democrats so they can make a difference. Tell any indies you know in PA!