The naked lapel
Like Barack Obama, I do not wear an American flag lapel pin. Unlike Barack Obama, I have never worn one.
No doubt that leaves ample room to question my patriotism — craven toady of the East Coast liberal media establishment that I am — never mind that I pay my taxes, without complaint; vote in municipal, state and federal elections; and obey the statutes. But it is hard for someone my age to look at an American flag lapel pin without summoning up the image of Richard Nixon, lapel pin prominently on display, insisting on his probity.
I did not always present a naked lapel to the world. There was a time when I sported prize buttons won in speech competitions, but I put them away after graduating from high school. And I have a pin somewhere bearing the logo of the American Copy Editors Society, of which I am a charter member, that I have worn at ACES events. But that seems a little odd — they already know I’m a member, and no one else knows what ACES is.
I also have an orange-and-navy-blue-striped necktie that announces to the knowing observer that I attended Syracuse University. A gentleman once approached me after church to ask, “Is that a Princeton tie?” “No,” I said, “Syracuse.” (Princeton is orange and black.) “Too bad,” he said.
The whole lapel pin kerfuffle looks even sillier that the usual rodomontade* that passes for political discourse in the Republic. Does any sane person — that is, anyone outside the confines of talk radio — seriously imagine that any of the presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic, is anything less than a patriotic citizen? Or that any candidate, by pinning a flag to his lapel, could add a cubit to his stature?
Flaunting flag lapel pins is of a piece with wearing clothes that show designer logos. (I don’t wear those, either. Any clothier who would like for me to be a walking billboard should pay me. I’m a newspaperman; that’s how advertising works.) Designer logos speak to middle-class status anxiety. Wearing designer clothes shows that I am one of the Quality. But since my fellow middle-class worriers lack the nous** to identify the good stuff without prompting, I have to wear something that blares the announcement to them.
All clothing is, of course, costume, and we all dress for the roles that we choose to play. It says something about us as a people, and it’s not something flattering, that the kind of political theater we prefer to attend can spend days on buffoonery about lapel pins.
[Yeah, I’ve gone off-topic again. Sue me.]
* rodomontade. A fine old word meaning “arrogant boasting or blustering, ranting talk.” (Thank you, Webster’s New World.) It derives from Rodomonte, the boasting Saracen in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
** nous. Transliterated straight from the Greek for mind or intellect, used in English since at least the 18th century to mean practical intelligence, common sense, knowledge and judgment. My daughter, Alice, as I have bragged previously, holds a degree in Latin and Greek, and I feel a paternal responsibility to uphold the classics.