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Mike Huckabee’s Flag Fetish

Reported by Alex - November 6, 2009 -

Here’s a quick quiz for you: Which of the definitions below best matches the intended role and function of the American flag?

(1) something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, or convention; a visible sign of something invisible.
(2 an object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response.
(3) a material object which should be considered sacred in its own right
(4) an object worthy of devotion, intense reverence, and ritualistic veneration

(1) and (2) describe a symbol, and if you chose one of these definitions you are correct. (3) and (4) describe a fetish, and if you chose one of these, you’re Mike Huckabee. With video.
Updated with second video.

Last weekend, “Pastor” Huckabee, channeling Archie Bunker, revealed the intensity of his flag fetish to the world when he huffed that people who object to the Pledge of Allegiance or the American flag being used under certain circumstances should pack up and leave the country. He began,

This past week, a 20-year-old employee at a Home Depot in West Palm Beach was reportedly fired because he wore a button that said: "One nation, under God, indivisible" -- a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance.

What “fair and balanced” Huckabee didn’t tell us is that the issue was not one of patriotism or lack thereof, but Home Depot’s claim that an employee had violated the company dress code by wearing a button expressing a religious belief. The employee had refused to remove it or wear a company-approved button that reads “United We Stand” as a replacement.

The Huckster continued,

Then in Massachusetts, a fitness center displayed a large American flag and some patrons of the fitness center complained that the flag was offensive because it might be construed as being a Christian symbol. I've heard it all now.
What Huckabee left out of his tale was that this complaint was only one of many, including the huge flag blocking the televisions, hindering airflow, and being visually intrusive on the gym atmosphere. One woman complained that working out with the giant flag right smack in front of her made her feel as if she was staring at a wall. (Stop the video on this page at 0:37 to see her very polite, handwritten objection, ending with “sorry and thanks.”)

To this polite regular of the gym, among others, Huckabee had this to say:

The total idiots who didn't want to conduct their workouts in the presence of the American flag need more than help to get their bodies in shape. They need to get rid of some of the fat in their head and build up some muscle in their brains.
If the American flag offends people in America, then I suggest that those people find a flag they like better and take the next flight one way to where that flag flies. I'd actually be in favor of taking the bailout and stimulus money the government wants to spend and use it to stimulate people who hate our flag to bail out in the country of their choice.

He went on to play the “military” card, saying that people who object to the flag are dishonoring the men and women who died for our country.

Notice how Huck spins this? He wants us to believe that the two objections cited weren’t about freedom of expression versus the freedom of a private enterprise to make its own rules within reason; they weren’t about a huge flag being so poorly placed that it created a claustrophobic atmosphere; and above all they weren’t about specific instances where the complainants felt that the displays were inappropriate or out of place. No, to the Huckster and his studio audience of trained seals, these objections represent hatred of the flag and of the United States itself.

Herein lies a problem: Can the flag of the United States be separated from what it stands for? And what does it stand for? And who gets to define what it stands for?

I pledge allegiance to what!?

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 as part of the first World’s Fair, held in Chicago. The idea was that recitation of the new pledge should accompany the installation of a US Flag in every classroom as a way of inculcating a sense of national unity among the populace at large, which was still smarting from the divisiveness of the Civil War and rapidly becoming more diverse, not only as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation but of rising immigration. The author, by the way, was Frances M. Bellamy, a young socialist minister whose cousin was the author of two well-known American socialist utopian novels and whose ideas Frances wished to promote in the Pledge. ( For more on Bellamy, socialism and the pledge, go here.) The words of Bellamy’s original pledge are,

I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The pledge was first recited in classrooms around America on Columbus Day, 1892, and in 1898 New York was the first state to make school recitation mandatory. By 1924 the pledge had been amended to its current state – minus the words “Under God”, which were added by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War at the urging of Catholic organizations and a Presbyterian reverend who convinced him that in its current state the pledge could be - aside from the mention of the United States - “the pledge of any Republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow”. (Source ). It is clear from the reasoning behind this addition that it wasn’t just a generic, Deist god that the United States was to be identified with, but the God of the lobbying ministers – the God of Christianity.

This mixing of religion with national unity in the pledge has always been problematic and has been the subject of a number of court challenges, including Newdow v. Carey, which is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Most of these center around the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge and whether recitation of the pledge in schools should be mandatory. Although many states still have outdated laws on the books mandating the pledge, the courts have held since the 1940’s that the pledge is permissible provided it is voluntary.

Huckabee says, “I proudly pledge my allegiance to that flag and to the Republic for which it stands”. Which begs the question: if we pledge allegiance to our country, why on earth should we feel a need - or be coerced - to pledge allegiance to the physical flag that represents it?

A flag is a symbol. A symbol points to something beyond itself or represents some other entity or idea; is not the entity or idea itself. It can be argued that to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth bearing a specific design makes no more sense than to attempt to drive a picture of a car or to pledge undying love to a marriage certificate. To make the symbol as important as the thing it represents is to turn it into an idol. This is the reason behind the Christian and Jewish prohibition of idols and the complete banning of the use of symbols of any kind in worship by some fundamentalist sects – yet it is frequently fundamentalist “christians,” who scorn idolatry in all its forms, who make a fetish of the US flag.

Chris Weinkopf, a writer who identifies himself as a Christian and a conservative, had this to say after one of many attempts to make flag-burning a Federal offence had been defeated:

I'm appalled by those who would burn the flag… But a flag-burning amendment, like the one the U.S. Senate narrowly rejected last week, takes us to the opposite extreme. Instead of profaning Old Glory, we make an idol out of it…Consider the oddly religious tone of last week's debate: The amendment would have permitted Congress to outlaw ``desecration'' of the flag. This was necessary, supporters said, because the flag is ``sacred,'' a ``venerated object…

Desecration? Sacred? Venerated? These are words usually reserved for the divine, for holy books, churches and synagogues…Not even objects that truly are sacred enjoy the sort of protection that the amendment's supporters want to extend to the flag…The net effect of a flag-burning amendment would be to elevate the Stars and Stripes to not just the level of the holy, but even higher. The flag would be the most sacred symbol of all, the lone exception to the First Amendment's protections of unfettered political speech…

A law that allows for the burning of some flags, but not America's, or a law that permits burning a flag to properly dispose of it, but not to make a political statement, clearly discriminates on the basis of political content. This is exactly the sort of meddling the First Amendment is supposed to prevent -- which is why amending the First Amendment is a prerequisite for banning flag burning…

Old Glory must remain the symbol of America's highest values, not the idol to which we sacrifice them.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s not a long jump from idolizing the flag to fetishizing it. Making a fetish of an object imbues it with an almost mystical power, charging it with an emotional energy and meaning of its own, even more powerful than the idea it was originally intended to represent, and resulting in a slavish, cult-like devotion complete with rituals (e.g. flag folding), superstitions (never let the flag touch the ground) and oaths (“I pledge allegiance to the flag). In most circumstances such behavior would be seen as either religious or obsessive; among flag cultists the traditional respect accorded our national flag is seen as inviolable, invariable and sacred ritual, the violation of which creates an unbearable anger in the cultist. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, anyone? And when you mess with someone’s obsession, they get angry. Very angry. And personally abusive. See video, below, of Huckabee berating and insulting those who don’t share his obsession.

The Cross and the Flag

In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, the Rev. Gregory Boyd attended a mega-church 4th of July service featuring the oversized multimedia screens which are de riguer in such religious warehouses. As the service drew to a close, the lights went down, the volume went up, and on the screen appeared the silhouettes of multiple crosses upon a hill. As “God Bless America” thundered over the sound system, a flag appeared behind the crosses and fighter jets screamed across the sky above them. The congregation rose to their feet cheering and applauding –many of them moved to tears. Horrified, Rev. Boyd began a series of sermons at his own church decrying the mixing of nationalist politics and religion. The result? He was accused of not supporting the President (Bush) and the military, and told that he wasn’t doing what the church was “supposed” to be doing, which was supporting the Republican party. He lost a thousand out of his flock of 5000. Twenty Sunday school teachers quit.

I can’t see Mike Huckabee having a similar problem. Can you?

As we have pointed out many times, Huckabee is a theocrat who uses American politics as a trojan horse for his Dominionistagenda, a man who has absolutely no problem with changing the Constitution to have it reflect expressly “christian” values. He is, after all, a “christian” nationalist, one who believes that America is the New Jerusalem, founded as an expressly “christian” nation, destined to become the physical embodiment of the Kingdom of God on earth, and charged by God with the task of bringing “christianity” to the rest of the world by any means necessary. So for Huckabee, if you disrespect the flag, you disrespect the mystical fetish of God’s chosen people.

Chosen people like these teabaggers, for instance? Surely these custodians of the REAL America know their flag rules!


Surely Republican Evangelical President G.W. Bush did:


My flag! In your face!

So maybe it isn’t so off the wall that one of the members of the Marblehead gym complained that having a huge flag so prominently displayed was like having “a Jesus cross in my face”. Huckabee is being disingenuous when he feigns amazement at this; if people will make an exclusive, religious, narrowly-defined fetish of the flag, then they can expect objections to its use.

But the problem doesn’t begin and end with religion. Ever since the Cold War, the political “right” have attempted, with some success, to co-opt the language and symbols of both religion and patriotism. They define and narrow their meanings to suit their agenda and use them in such a way as to make outsiders of those who don’t buy into it. (For a particularly egregious example see here.) Today, the word “Christian” has become associated with being virulently anti-choice, anti-gay marriage (if not anti-gay altogether), fundamentalist, righteous, outraged, moralistic (and at the same time sex-obsessed), socially conservative, and rapture-ready, leaving millions of more open-minded churchgoers and believers having to explain over and over that they’re not “one of those christians”. Think “Patriot” and (unless you are a fan of a certain football team) you think cheerleaders for American hegemony, fighter jets, town-hall shouters, teabaggers, guns, Jesus, caricature Founding Fathers (as appropriated by Glenn Beck and his band of wackos), “America - love it or leave it”, anti-big-government rhetoric, political and social conservatism, angry white males, – and the US flag.

These associations and the way they overlap are not accidental; they’re the product of decades of hard work by far-right radicals who believe that their way is the only way, and that it is their God-given right to define concepts such as liberty and freedom for the rest of us while ignoring concepts such as equality and justice (have you noticed that Glenn Beck has made “social justice”, long a mainstay of Christian work, an official Bad Thing?) These are the people who, while paying lip service to American democracy, wish to destroy it by deciding who gets to dissent, about what, under what circumstances. They are the people who believe it their birthright to make the rules for the rest of us, and who abhor the continuing flow of debate and change which is the lifeblood of liberal democracy and underpins the work of pure genius which is our Constitution.

These people– Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck being perfect examples - believe that it is their duty to fix in stone what the American flag is and the sort of nation it represents. Their followers are the ones who display the flag not as a symbol of the work-forever-in-progress that is America but as an idol standing for an America frozen in a time past which never existed, where everyone was a devout, fundamentalist Christian, white males were in charge, women and minorities knew their place, children were seen and not heard, and all was right with the world. They’re the people who scream in outrage when the reality of our pluralist democracy, in all its glorious disarray, collides with their obsession with certainty. They’re the Beck-bots who displayed OUR flag alongside signs depicting our democratically-elected President as a Nazi, a clown, and a “savage” with a bone through his nose, at the rightwing-media-and-astroturf 9/12 march on Washington. They’re the people for whom displaying the flag means “F**k you if you don’t think like me.”

Or, as Huckabee said, “Leave the country”:

For those who hold [the flag] in contempt, I hope you do more than leave the gym; I really hope you leave the country and stop taking up space in a country that is big enough to handle your small mind, but wouldn't want to burden you with having to respect your freedom and the men and women of our military who died to give it to you.

I think we know now who really has the “small mind”.

And I suggest that it’s time for those of us who value the pluralism of America in all its guises to reclaim the flag for all of us.

Huffy Huckabee sez, "Get thee beyond the walls of the city, thou heathen fetish-haters!"

Update: Q.E.D.!