Obama and the Flag Pin

By Gabel, Peter | Tikkun, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Obama and the Flag Pin


Gabel, Peter, Tikkun


WHEN BARACK OBAMA STOOD OPPOSITE HILLARY CLINTON DURING the Pennsylvania debate without his flag pin on, he was actually being an American hero. Practically inviting the inevitable exposure of his naked lapel by George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson, Obama was willing to stand with the authenticity of his being against a demand that he adhere to a false image of "we," and hope that by doing so we could all break through to another level of connection to our common humanity.

In truth, all of us watching the debate have longed from birth to enter into an authentic relationship of mutual recognition with the Other, with all other beings. This desire is at the very heart of our social nature-it is the foundation of every baby's search for eye contact, for sensual nurturance and holding, for the completion of the self that only occurs through the reciprocity of authentic connection.

But tragically for all of us, we are born into a world that is not fully "there" yet. For a complex of reasons, as much as we long for each other, we are in flight from each other, passing each other with blank gazes on the street, hiding behind artificial self-presentations that we ourselves monitor moment to moment to keep each other at a safe distance. In place of the authenticity of mutual Presence, we condition each other to take on the artifice of this or that "role;" and in place of the authenticity of a supple and vulnerable human community, we require each other to pledge allegiance to a common mental image of community that blankets a universal solitude.

Thus the flag pin. When Obama stands before us as a candidate for president without his flag pin on-in his birthday suit, so to speak-he is appealing to all of us totrust that we can come out from behind our wall of coercive images and take the risk of being there for one another as who we really are. And when Stephanopolous and Gibson draw a threatening attention to the fact that he is not wearing the pin, they are actually expressing their anxiety that Obama might succeed, that ifhe were to become our leader, we might all be expected to become present to each other in a true relation of I and Thou as a loving and vulnerable humanity (themselves included). …

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