After watching the four Republican Presidential debates, one can definitely point out differences on issues, speech, style and overall persona. In no way are the 15 (is that correct? I've lost track) candidates exactly the same — except in one instance. It deserves comment.
When it comes to sartorial patriotism, they are all identical. On Tuesday night in Milwaukee, each and every one of the eight candidates wore an American flag pin. Carly Fiorina, the only female candidate on stage, was wearing a very large flag pin. There is no way you could miss it: It was right smack in the middle of her blouse.
I can hear it now: Plotkin, what's wrong with that? Are you against patriotism? Don't you love your country? I care about my country as much as anyone. But what I don't think is right is to use the flag for political advancement. This practice of wearing the Stars and Stripes started with our disgraced President Nixon.
Growing up in the 1950s, I don't recall West Point graduate, former five-star general, architect of D-Day and President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower ever feeling it necessary to wear his patriotism on his lapel. I can only surmise that his service to country was well-known and spoke for itself. He did not have to burnish his record.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was a World War II hero. He was severely wounded and spent a year in a series of military hospitals. When he was a U.S. senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate, I don't remember him wearing the American flag pin.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances 20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home MORE (R-Ariz.) served over five years in the Hanoi Hilton (the Hỏa Lò Prison). During the Vietnam War, he was shot down while flying his plane. I never saw the American flag pin adorn his lapel. This proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy must have believed that it was extraneous and not necessary. No one would dare call McCain unpatriotic (except for Donald Trump, perhaps).
Jim Webb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia, was a much-decorated Marine who served in Vietnam. He too suffered serious wounds, including shrapnel lodged in his body. But Webb, when he was senator and briefly a presidential candidate during this cycle, did not feel obligated to wear his patriotism on his lapel.
What do all these men have in common? They all served in the U.S. armed forces. They all saw and experienced combat. To them, that was enough. Webb summed it up best by repeatedly saying, "I don't wear pins, I don't wear hats and I don't sign pledges." How refreshing: A man who doesn't need to advertise his patriotism. It is in his very essence and being. No one questions that.
So why do all the others wear the flag lapel? I call it political opportunism. They all feel that this tin badge makes up or compensates for not having served in the military. Or it's political conformity of the worst kind. If I don't wear the pin, it will be pointed out and I can't take the criticism, these politicians must think.
You will remember that presidential candidate Barack Obama first did not wear the pin, but when he got heat for not doing so, he started wearing it. During last month's GOP debate in Colorado, I noticed that former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) was the only candidate of the 11 not wearing the pin. Good for him. He didn't fall in line.
Running for president is an act of patriotism. For political consumption, it is not required to affix the flag pin on your clothes. The life you have led, the acts you have performed, the things you say and believe in: That's how you should be viewed and judged.
Find me a candidate who doesn't feel that an American flag pin needs to be part of his or her political uniform.
Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.