Monday, June 14, 2010

The're Still Doing the Unpatriotic Dance

I recently got into it with some people of a mostly-political list I belong to full of intelligent people (starts with an M) on all sides of the aisle. And despite these folks being card-carrying smart, I still get posts saying Obama refuses to salute the flag. WTF?

So I broke it down. This is what I wrote:

For the record, the quips about Obama based on video presented at should be clarified by Title 36 of the US Code, which states that during the National Anthem, all non-military personnel in attendance, when the flag is displayed, "should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart." ( This confirms that all candidates were wrong in not facing the flag behind them.

However, I think the most interesting aspect of this back-and-forth is the purposeful abuse of language on the right.

According to this email & links, the following has happened once: President Obama did not place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.

The first intentional manipulation of the language is the change of word choice to the verb "refuse": President Obama refused to place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.

This turns the inaction to an active defiance of custom or observation. But just as I cannot refuse a cookie if not offered one, Obama cannot refuse to place his hand on his heart unless prompted or reminded. There is no such prerequisite action documented anywhere, any time.

The second intentional manipulation of the language is the generalization via tense of the already-inaccurate statement: This president refuses to place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.

So now a single inaction has been transformed into a standard of defiant intent against our National Anthem.

The final manipulation is the generalization to all forms of observance: President Obama refuses to place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance., President Obama refused to salute the flag., etc.

And in what I applaud as impressive propagandic efficiency, the last version of the "playing telephone" messages is what we hear as the peal of the bell from the right wing blog, radio, and Fox news. Unsubstantiated, some outright lies, all in a desperate attempt to turn one physical inaction into a malicious, deviant character trait that pervades his very being: unpatriotic.

And I think that's the most laughable aspect of the whole slime train: They go that far in defamation of character and land the deal with a sad attempt to objectify patriotism - love and dedication to country - something as subjective and personal as religion.

Unfortunately, most people on the right bow down to the AM band and wait for that cry of Unpatriotic to trigger and justify the disgust they feel for our current president without even thinking about it, let alone following the trail of falsehoods backwards to figure out where the declaration originated.

Personally, when I'm confronted with the dumbing down of something as complicated as Patriotism to whether or not you're wearing an American flag pin that was probably made in China and everyone scrambles for that signifier, I put my trust in the guy who says "No pin for me."


Chris said...

Mr. Shambles -

As always, I appreciate you teasing out how language affects perception.

As you point out, the subtle shift in a verb can wildly alter the meaning, providing nefarious intent where none exists.

Though you have to admit, this example fits nicely with the larger trope that Obama is other and therefore outside of the approved categories. Kenyan, Muslim, Socialist, and (dare I say out loud?) Black, are all examples of positioning him as other.

However, the examples I listed above are so 'over the top' that many Americans can dismiss them. But your example - subtle and playing on a values appeal, is the more insidious kind, in my opinion, as it slowly erodes confidence of those in the middle without a conscious fight.

If you call him a socialist I can refute that pretty easily in my head. But the subtle questioning of patriotism? That's more difficult. And because its is done with an example, I'm led into disjunctive thinking where I must place him in one of two categories... Is he or isn't he?

Keep it up! Angry or not.

Ricky Shambles said...

Chris - your ever-thoughtful comments are always welcome. Your are spot on in the Right positioning Obama as the "other" to marginalize him right along with the amazing double standards coming out of the woodwork of opposition to policies and bills and ideas that Republicans lauded under the rule of Bush.

And that's why the wrap around the pinky of un-patriotic. It's a loaded idea, and so subjective that it's easy to discriminate.

What? He doesn't want you to carry firearms on the White House lawn? Unpatriotic! What, he's not a die-hard crazy-dedicated Christian? Unpatriotic! Republicans don't like him? Unpatriotic!

Unfortunately, it's a painted peg on which to hang a much bigger hat. And fears of foreigner, Muslim (or lesser Christian), and - yes - Black just scare the shit out of people, even some people who didn't realize their bias until after they voted for him and then resented him for being in the White House.

The worst is that many of those who supported Obama in high, high hopes fall to disappointment, but because their vigor and attention faded, they can't really vocalize exactly why they feel let down and gravitate towards the Right's arguments by default. I know. Ewww.

This Nov will be a big egg to crack. Two years from now - well, let's just hope for the best.