Dear Sarah Palin,
As a “real American,” from “real America,” I’m sure you realize that the flag of the United States carries a great deal of symbolic value. It’s an icon imbued with real meaning – for me, seeing the American flag reminds me of our nation’s best values and the obligations we have to each other and the rest of the world. I definitely consider myself a patriot, and my (progressive, California) family was huge on putting up our American flag on Memorial Day, Flag Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans Day. It was my job to hang the flag on our front porch on those days, and I remember very vividly that the first time I dropped it at the age of 7 or 8, my mom picked up the flag and drove us to the nearest American Legion Post to dispose of it properly. I was always taught that there was a code of honor for the American flag, and that anyone who thought of themselves as a patriot would not take that lightly. (In retrospect, it makes sense – my grandparents are half immigrants, half Midwesterners, all New Deal Democrats who proudly took advantage of military service as a path to the American Dream.)
Frankly, this is why it pisses me off so much when I see you signing American flags at a campaign stop in Reno without batting an eyelid. Theoretically, I have nothing against the American flag being used for whatever purposes individuals see fit. If someone wants to burn the American flag as a means of exposing civil rights offenses or self-serving government, I will criticize her tactics, but power to her. We can agree that it’s poor form for a site like Gay.com to misuse the flag on a huge billboard (even if the billboard is in the People’s Republic), but it’s not against any state or federal laws.
I do have an issue with hypocrisy: You, Mrs. Palin, who has no qualms questioning the patriotism of the Commander-in-Chief, didn’t for one second ponder the implications of scribbling your name on a flag that someone threw at you? Members of your party have definitely not shied away from using flag desecration to advance divisive politics, so it might behoove you to take a look at the Flag Code: the American Legion is pretty clear about the fact that words and drawing have no place on the star-spangled banner. Now that you’re a gosh-darned celebrity with your own Discovery Channel show, that does not mean that you’re above these standards.
But this leads me to a larger point of mine, and a message for the Tea Party as a whole: THE AMERICAN FLAG IS NOT AN ACCESSORY. It was not intended to prove your American-ness, or to justify you attacking the allegiance of anyone who disagrees with you. Maybe President Obama didn’t want to wear a flag lapel pin at the beginning of the ’08 campaign because he realized that tacking a flag on your suit doesn’t make you a stars-and-stripe American; committing every day to understand and uphold the American Constitution and the values it embodies does. The best American leaders demonstrate their patriotism through action, by working to achieve civil equality and a more inclusive, fair society.
When you use the American flag as a political prop, you are misusing and defacing a symbol of the incredible, unfinished experiment that is the United States. There are some things that are sacred, and this is one of them. Next time, when one of your brainwashed adoring fans hands you an American flag for your John Hancock, please consider keeping your ego (and your toxic politics) off of it.
(The American flag is at around 1:33)