James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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American flag fetishists and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2010

Today is one of those days when some conservatives like to pretend they’re more patriotic than the rest of us–and now, despite their all-too-common ignorance about such things as the U.S. Flag Code, even more patriotic than their president.

Such goofiness started before Barack Obama was elected, of course, but shows no sign of letting up. And if they have to lie to make a “patriotic” point, well, many talking heads and conservative bloggers apparently will do that, too. Take, for example, the claim that Obama is the first president (or the first “since the Civil War“) not to visit Arlington National Cemetary for Memorial Day.

That’s a blatant and easy-to-check lie, as previous “offenders” have included both George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and–gasp–Ronald Reagan. But, interestingly, never draft dodger Bill Clinton.

Or how about the claim (here, here, herehere and here, among others) that Obama is the first American president to give a news conference while not standing beside or in front of an American flag? Several even claim to have researched the issue, presumably so gullible readers won’t have to.

But a fairly brief Google search demonstrates that the claim also is a lie, with no American flags visible in news conferences from previous presidents that include George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and–gasp!–Ronald Reagan (examples below).

I suspect that some staffer forgot to move the flags from the side of the room–where the podium usually sits for East Room press conferences–to the end of the room. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s not like the president has nothing else to worry about.

And the mistake, if that’s what it was, is hardly on the level of, say, confusing Walter Reed Military Hospital with Walter Reed Middle School during the nominee’s speech at the Republican National Convention, or having the wrong speech on the teleprompter during a State of the Union address.

Frankly, of the many things for which Obama should be criticized, the patriotism angle is perhaps the silliest (though that’s difficult to judge considering various communist/socialist/Kenyon/Muslim claims). When it comes to press conferences, a bigger question than that of what’s behind the president is what’s behind his reticence to have such sessions at all, despite his supposed commitment to openness and the fact that we seem to see him everywhere.

Also worth noting: Never ones to let consistency get in the way of a good presidential bashing, it wasn’t long ago that a leading conservative newspaper suggested that Obama was surrounding himself with too many American flags. All in all, the anti-Obama posts once again demonstrate that the supposed defenders of American values care less about respecting the flag or America’s fallen dead than they do about disrespecting their president.

Same-day update: The writer of the “since the Civil War” post linked above has corrected his erroneous headline, which apparently he had based on another bad source. He still maintains that Obama should have been at Arlington, and frankly I tend to agree. But as noted above, Obama is hardly the first to honor vets elsewhere on Memorial Day, and he has spent more time on the job than his immediate predecessor did.

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15 Responses to “American flag fetishists and Obama”

  1. Interesting that you would begin your slime piece by talking smack about the flag code.

    You might want to check how well Obama has followed said Flag Code.

    United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1 — The Flag; §8. Respect for flag:
    The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”

    The picture of Obama laughingly entertaining a foreign leader in front of an American flag allowed to droop contemptuously on the ground – in violation of the flag code – is even more appalling when compared to the words of Medal of Honor winner William Carney of the famous Massachusetts 54th:

    Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

  2. James McPherson said

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Michael, but I wish you’d also taken time to read closely enough to see that I don’t “talk smack” about the Flag Code. If you’d followed the link, you’ll see that I’ve been very critical of those who pay no attention to it (such as when G.W. signed a flag, and he and his wife stepped on another), so I appreciate the extra example.

  3. I don’t know anything about “signing a flag,” but I do know that the “stepping on a flag” incident was President and Mrs. Bush walking on a carpet mural which had been placed on the floor.

    It was not a flag that would ever fly on a flag pole as a flag, and thus not subject to the flag code.

    Hardly the same thing as walking over a flag.

    You also cite Bush’s signing a flag. What he signed was one of those tiny little flags they hand out at events (the above Youtube video shows that, too). If Bush was wrong for doing THAT, then you must be REALLY angry at Democrats throwing hundreds of such flags into a dumpster.
    http://www.floppingaces.net/2008/09/06/democrats-trash-the-flag-at-denver-convention/

    And there’s a picture here of Vice President Joe Biden with one of those flags hurled on the ground beneath him at the Democratic National Convention.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2483484/posts?page=14#14

    Surely you are outraged over these things, right???

    The rug mural on the ground was not a real flag. The little flag you wave on a stick and then later throw away (seriously, have you treasured and revered every one of those things you’ve ever been handed???) is not a real flag.

    Meanwhile, the flag I point out that Obama disgraced was a real flag.

    Your citing those instances completely undermines your argument about conservatives, because you are now doing the very sort of thing you attack those you oppose for allegedly doing.

  4. James McPherson said

    And are you saying that Obama should be paying more attention to the flag that’s behind him than to the foreign leader he’s sitting with?
    And I wasn’t aware that the Flag Code made size distinctions. But again, if you’d read the original post, you’d see that my argument isn’t about flag desecration (which apparently is impossible to avoid), but about so-called patriots who fetishize the flag.
    As for the Dems trashing the flag, that’s probably also false: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/06/thrown-away-flags-story-f_n_124499.html

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AEJMC, Bob Britten. Bob Britten said: Post-Memorial Day fact check: Obama not the first to skip Arlington (Reagan, both Bushes have too). RT @michsineath: http://bit.ly/cIZXWg […]

  6. Okay, so it is your contention that every single American who received one of those tiny flags on a wooden stick, who did not burn that flag, was desecrating the American flag.

    Kind of sounds like you’re worse than the conservatives whom your attacking as “fetishizing” the flag. In particular after you attack Bush for walking on a rug that had a flag on it, and for signing one of those tiny little flags on the wooden stick that you apparently think deserve all the honors of Old Glory on the flagpole. But on the other hand, when Joe Biden has one of those little flags upside down on the ground, that apparently doesn’t matter.

    As for Obama, I’m saying that his White House should show the proper reverence to the flag.

    You seem to think that tiny little flags that we wave and then throw away should be revered (except for Joe Biden or liberals tossing them in dumpsters), but that the actual flag in the Oval Office in the White House can be casually disregarded. And that that Medal of Honor recipient who said, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground” was just some kind of fetishizing fool.

    Most Americans understand that those little flags on the little sticks are flag symbols, not actual American flags. They are like the flags on tea shirts, or coffee mugs, or, yes, carpet mats like Bush walked on.

    I hope that for every single on of those little flags you’ve been handed, you’ve had a ceremony, played taps, rendered a hand salute, and then ceremonially burned it. Too bad you don’t seem to want to apply that attitude to the actual real flags that fly in the White House Oval Office.

    I don’t fault Joe Biden for his putting his little flag on the ground. I don’t blame Democrats for throwing away extra little flags (except I object to wasting things that could be reused. I don’t blame George Bush for walking on a mat that had a flag on it. I don’t mind George Bush signing one of those little flags (the same kind that Biden had on the ground). Because they aren’t actual flags. I DO condemn Obama’s allowing the flag to touch the ground in the Oval Office. Having served in the US Army, we were trained to revere the flag, and show it respect. And we knew that we could be called upon to die under that flag.

    Your post carried a tone of scorn for conservatives. But when you were pointing a finger at us, your other three fingers were pointing right back at you.

    Having said that, you do seem to be a decent fellow overall, in spite of the areas in which we obviously disagree. Hopefully we’re both able to serve America is a way in which the other would be able to approve.

  7. James McPherson said

    I agree that the White House flag shouldn’t be touching the ground–I just don’t happen to blame Obama for it, especially when he’s in the middle of hosting a foreign leader.
    And actually I don’t get very worked up about what people do with their flags, whether the small paper variety or something else, since the battle has long been lost.
    But I personally have a large flag (hung correctly) in my office, have another at home, and won’t wear one on clothing (which violates the Flag Code, and sometimes got hippies beaten up in the 1960s) or use it for advertising (another Flag Code violation).
    “Having said that, you do seem to be a decent fellow overall, in spite of the areas in which we obviously disagree.” I’d say the same about you. Among other things, I greatly appreciate the fact that you back up your arguments with your name and photo. Thanks again for writing.

  8. The buck stops somewhere. I’m not saying that Obama put that flag in that stand. But it’s his flag in his office.

    Glad you respect the flag.

    I guess it comes to this: we’re responsible for what we do. I didn’t post it above, but there’s another difference between the little flags on the little wood/plastic poles, and real flags: If someone walks by me with a little flag, or a flag on their shirt, etc., I ignore it; but if someone walks by with an American flag on a pole, I stop, stand at attention, and either render a hand salute if I’m wearing a hat, or place my hand over my heart, until that flag passes by.

    I don’t go beat the snot out of other passerby who don’t honor the flag, but I do look down on them for their apathy toward the greatest nation in history.

    What we need to do is come together on at least a few things we can all hold in common, and work toward accomplishing those things (such as reducing our debt). Because we’re not far away from imploding.

    I know we’re on different sides in our politics, but good luck in encouraging people to become better Americans and better citizens.

  9. James McPherson said

    Thanks, Michael. And good luck to you with the same.

  10. Roland Dunn said

    Idolizing a flag is going against Jesus Christ, who symbolizes more than a flag ever could. Read the Bible. It speaks about your false patriotism and worship of a piece of cloth very well. You should repent now.

  11. […] will be has eager to point out Palin’s patriotic shortcomings as they have been about Obama’s. Right? This entry was posted in Legal issues, Politics and tagged American flag, Sarah Palin. […]

  12. […] homophobes, Rush Limbaugh, the Texas Board of Education, PUMAs, lying Catholics, David Horowitz, flag fetishists, Pat Robertson, “Christmas warriors,” Michelle Malkin, “border warriors,” […]

  13. Ed Darrell said

    That photo of Obama and Sarkozy doesn’t look like the White House to me.

    Plus, there’s an EU flag, too.

    Is that photo from the G20 Summit in 2011? From another meeting in Europe?

    What’s the protocol for insulting your host nations when they don’t get your flag protocols exactly right?

    Can anyone tell us where in the White House that photo was supposed to have been taken, and why there’s an EU flag there?

  14. Ed Darrell said

    Yeah, Michael Eden misfires.

    The photo of President Obama and President Sarkozy was taken at the French Prefecture in Normandy, in June 2009 at anniversary festivities celebrating the 1944 invasion of Normandy, where Obama’s grandfather and granduncle both fought.

    When the nation that has stood beside the U.S. in the fight for freedom longer than any other nation in the world invites you to celebrate your liberation of their country from the Nazis, it’s impolite to complain about a flag slipping during a photo opportunity.

    But that would be less petty than falsely blaming Obama for the occurrence, and blaming the White House staff for an event that occurred several thousand miles away, across the Atlantic, in a building of the government of France.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/normandy-obama-sarkozy-present-united-front-mideast-peace-process-iran-article-1.373685

  15. Ed Darrell said

    Michael Eden said:

    “The buck stops somewhere. I’m not saying that Obama put that flag in that stand. But it’s his flag in his office.”

    On his own blog, he has since distanced himself from that claim:

    “I NEVER SAID WHERE THE EVENT WITH OBAMA AND THE FLAG HAPPENED IN MY ARTICLE.”

    Fetishists will deny the fetish, I suppose.

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