As Iraq war grinds on, US lapel pin loses appeal
London Telegraph | July 6, 2005
By Alec Russell
The Stars and Stripes lapel pin, discreet but emphatically patriotic, has been an indispensable part of daily attire in Washington since that terrible September day nearly four years ago.
The trend has spanned the divide between Republicans and Democrats. In last year's presidential campaign it would have been political suicide for a candidate to appear without one.
But as support for the war in Iraq wavers, lapel pins are disappearing into sock drawers.
Even Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives and the personification of the party's "take no prisoners" wing, appeared without a flag on June 14 - Flag Day, when Americans are called on to display and salute the Stars and Stripes.
Greeting journalists in his office on Capitol Hill he lightheartedly rebuked them for being pinless.
"Happy Flag Day," he said. "I don't see any flags." Then he noticed his own lapel.
"I don't have one either," he said. "Maybe I ought to go get one."
With patriotism a litmus test for all politicians, flagless congressmen are careful to emphasise that their decision to go without is not a statement.
In a straw poll conducted by the New York Times, some said the lapel pin clashed with the metal badge that identified them to Capitol Hill police. Others said they had accidentally left it in their constituencies.
In a possible corrective to George W Bush's opponents who hope that public support for the war in Iraq is about to implode, a recent opinion poll showed that 83 per cent of Americans were "very" or "extremely proud" of their country.
Despite mounting disapproval of the president's handling of Iraq, support for the troops is still sky-high. But there is no doubt that the wave of patriotism and unity that followed September 11 has receded.
While flags reappeared on porches of Democrats and Republicans to mark Independence Day yesterday, the time when you could drive through suburbs and find house after house flying the flag is over.
The porch banner's fate mirrors that of the lapel pin.
"People wore the lapel badge after 9/11 as a statement of determination," Gary Ackerman, a Democratic congressman, told the New York Times. He jettisoned his after about a year.
"Now that the terrorist attacks have receded from memory somewhat, members wear different kinds of ribbons, whether it be for breast cancer or to bring the troops home."
With Mr Bush regularly draping himself in the flag as he seeks to shore up his falling approval ratings, whether to wear it or display it has clearly become a dilemma for his critics.
Democrats are furious at the popularity of his "war president" routine in the heartland. But they know it would destroy their fortunes if they copied Vietnam war protesters and burned the flag or wore it upside down.
Mr Bush, flanked by serving soldiers and veterans and surrounded by billowing Stars and Stripes, hailed the 21st century as "liberty century" as he urged Americans to mark Independence Day by showing their support for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He portrayed the fight in Iraq as part of the same test of martial resolve that Americans faced when winning freedom from Britain.
"Americans have always held firm because we have always believed in certain truths," he said.
"We know that the freedom we defend is meant for all men and women and for all times. And we know that when the work is hard the proper response is not retreat: it is courage."