On April 16, 2008 ABC hosted the 20th Democratic debate in Philadelphia where the infamous “pin question” came up. In an alternative reality, this was Obama’s response.
NASH MCCABE (Latrobe, Pennsylvania): (From videotape.) Senator Obama, I have a question, and I want to know if you believe in the American flag. I am not questioning your patriotism, but all our servicemen, policemen and EMS wear the flag. I want to know why you don’t.
MR. GIBSON: Just to add to that, I noticed you put one on yesterday. But — you’ve talked about this before, but it comes up again and again when we talk to voters. And as you may know, it is all over the Internet. And it’s something of a theme that Senators Clinton and McCain’s advisers agree could give you a major vulnerability if you’re the candidate in November. How do you convince Democrats that this would not be a vulnerability?
SENATOR OBAMA: Everyone here; I’d like to see a show of hands. Everyone in the audience, and even on this stage, please raise your hand if you are wearing a flag pin.
[A few hands go up]
There’s a couple over there, and one over there. OK, for those of you who are raising your hands, are those people who aren’t wearing flag pins any less patriotic than you are? What if everyone else in the room was dressed head to foot in the red, white and blue – you know with slacks made out of the stars and stripes and an Old Glory bandanna to tie back their hair – and you were only wearing a flag pin? Would you think they are more patriotic than you?
OK, you can put your hands down. Now, can I see a show of hands for those of you who hung a flag off your front balcony right after 9/11? Or put a bumper sticker or little flag on the antenna of your car? [Looking to Clinton and the two moderators] You can raise your hand, too. [Pausing to look at everyone raising their hands] So did I.
Now keep your hands up if you still have that flag raised in front of your house or on your car. [Pause while most put their hands down] Do you think you love your country any less now than you did then?
Now I don’t remember the last time I saw Senator McCain wear a flag pin. Should we question his patriotism? While he was a prisoner of war the Viet Cong heard that his father, an admiral, was named commander of all the forces in Vietnam. So they offered to immediately release him. But he refused. He said that all others held longer at the “Hanoi Hilton” should be released first. Now, you can question his policies, his record in the senate and even his ideology, but don’t question his patriotism because he doesn’t wear a flag pin.
Patriotism is defined by our actions – serving in the military, organizing in the poorest areas of Chicago to build a better community, dedicating your life to public service in order to create a better America. Patriotism is not defined by the pins that we wear.