Conformity Nation

I grew up in a very small and very homogeneous town in which everybody knew everybody. And worse, I grew up in the 1950s, the most conformist decade in American history. It was a time and place in which the least deviation from a narrowly rigid norm was a scandal. Believe me, if the length of a skirt hem was off by so much as an inch, the wearer would feel repercussions. In the early 1960s I rebelled and took to wearing multicolor knee socks instead of the de rigueur white bobbie socks. It was an act of courage, I tell you.

So you’ll understand when I say that the “scandal” over Barack Obama’s lack of a flag lapel pin feels very familiar. We’re seeing the most suffocating, small-minded, über-conformist impulses of America writ large.

I don’t have a thing against flag lapel pins, especially in commemoration of 9/11. On the morning of September 13, 2001, I returned to Manhattan for the first time since the attacks, and I will never forget the flags I saw then, flying all along Madison Avenue and on the scaffolding in Times Square. It was a beautiful thing.

But the flag stands for freedom, and enforced conformity isn’t freedom. I say it’s a gross disrespect of the flag and everything it stands for to require lapel pin wearing as socially mandated proof of patriotism.

This “issue” is symptomatic of our national dysfunction. We can’t have honest discussions about our real critical issues — Iraq, health care, the economy — so we have symbolic squabbles over non-issues like lapel pins and Please, people, get a grip.

Bob Herbert writes in today’s New York Times:

The U.S. is going through a transitional period at least as important as the early post-World War II years. New worlds in energy, technology, the economy and global interdependence are either upon us or coming fast.

Yet much of the nation’s top leadership is either wasting its time on complete nonsense or trying with great determination to push us back to the era of top hat and tails.

Among other things, Republicans are trying to figure out what to do about Larry Craig, the loony senator from Idaho who got caught in a public toilet behaving as if he thought the promised land was just one stall away.

Democrats, unable to do anything about George W. Bush’s policy of eternal war in Iraq, found themselves reduced to fulminating in official Congressional proceedings about the latest wackiness from Rush Limbaugh.

Meanwhile, the president and his priceless band of can’t-get-it-right-wingers, are busy vetoing health insurance for children, dreaming up secret torture protocols, funneling lucrative federal contracts to friends and cronies and fulfilling their paramount mission — making the very rich richer.

So much for leadership.

And so much for Conservative Correctness. Righties can take their flag lapel pins and white bobbie socks and whatever else the “CC” police want to enforce and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine.

Update: See also Republican Attack Schtick Entering Backfire Realm.

12 thoughts on “Conformity Nation

  1. I live in Fayetteville, NC – home of Fort Bragg.
    I don’t see a lot of people wearing flag lapel-pins, or “Support Our Troops” stickers – anymore.
    If I see the stickers, they are faded.
    Like Neo-con dreams.

    Adorning pins and stickers is the height of cowardice. If you are able, and of age, why are you here instead of there?

    Wearing purple band-aid’s is not the equivilant of a Purple Heart. Nor should it demean the real medal.

    Flags are symbols. Pins are pins. Stickers are stickers.
    What we stand for cannot be portrayed in any venue.

    We are how we act. We are who we are…
    And right now, we are a “Nation of Shame!”
    (Can I trademark that?).

    Pins are for Pin-head’s!!!
    (Can I trademark that, too?).

    We are about to become that which we once feared…
    I hate to way this, but the Fascist’s wore pins and had stickers and slogan’s, too.

    See our reflection yet? It ain’t Alice looking back at us in that “Looking Glass.” It is US.

    Pogo: “We have seen the enemy; and it is US!”

    “Look in the mirror, boy. Look in the mirror…”

  2. “Can’t get it right-wingers’……good one.

    Lots of things happening today make me wonder how far from reason the decline may be going, and whether it is irreversible in the USA. Some of the symptoms, like this lapel pin outbreak, may point to an onset of societal dementia.

  3. I like what Obama did on this. Like Maha, I grew up in the 50s and she describes it well. One thing the 50s weren’t was “Leave It to Beaver.” As an American Indian, I have never had the reverence for the flag that seems to be demanded by right-wingers. Also, I don’t ever celebrate the Fourth of July (except that I get a day off from work) because it doesn’t represent independence fot American Indians. I don’t believe I disrespect the flag; but, it is just a symbol–and not a good symbol for an American Indian.

  4. All the Republicans have left is trivial stuff. They have been beaten to pieces over the war, scandals, and health care. So they are dragging the political riverbeds for causes to rally around. It’s utter desperation and it’s pathetic.

    Our own Mike Turner from Ohio (I’m ashamed to say) is now on a tear about allowing religious themes being allowed in the ceremonies of flag dedications at the State Capitol. He’s wasting time and taxpayer dollars on a cause that nobody should give a shit about. Sadly, letters I’ve written to his office are answered with placating drivel about how dedicated he and his Party are to winning the war in Iraq. Good grief.

  5. Jesus admonished his followers for being stuck on the surface of issues and not seeing / reasoning with them in a sufficiently deep way (I’m too lazy to look up an example in the gospels, but it’s there).

    The Democrat who can likewise cut through this sort of surface nonsense and who can push it in the right’s face, embarassing them for their constant, deliberate shallowness – as Jesus pointedly embarassed some of his followers – will have my enthusiastic vote.

    I want to see more of what Obama did. I want to see our candidates deliberately attack and expose the right’s shallowness in this most clever way.

    Conversely, this whole topic calls to mind Hillary’s stupid endorsement of the burning of the flag amendment some years ago.

  6. I’ve always felt that the American mythology of rugged individualism is a crock. I’ve lived in many different countries, from Ireland to Turkey, and the US is the most conformist society I’ve encountered.

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