Obama’s Patriotism, Lapel Pins and Faith-based Initiatives


As Barack Obama unveiled his new brand of patriotism, which started with lapel pins on the cover of Rolling Stone and this past week stretched to include his ideas for a new faith based service office in an Obama West Wing, I am disappointed by the mediocrity of these largely symbolic actions.

Obama’s sudden lapel pin wearing is silly. Clearly it is a gag, and it comes across as one.  I found compelling his earlier ratonale for not wearing them.I find his rationale now for not wearing them– careless– to be cowardly.  Following 9/11, lapel pins and the like served as knee jerk tells of support for the Administration’s dramatic right turn. As Obama earlier suggested, the real patriot took to heart the ideas behind the flag, while leaving lapel pins as an unnecessary and superfluous accessory.

Obama also made what he inferred was a sweeping proposal for a new faith based office to be housed in the White House. Unlike the Bush faith based initiatives, Obama’s would not be limited to hand outs to christian cronies (a fair improvement but not saying much); rather it would support large and small scale efforts in mostly urban areas around the county.  It’s modest improvement over the status quo notwithstanding, Obama’s proposal is troubling on several fronts:

First, even tho he says that faith based programs receiving federal funds will not be allowed to discriminate on any sectarian grounds, I am unaware how nondiscriminattion clauses could be mandated without establishing bright lines between sectarian and secular missions. The only and easiest way to establish such bright lines is for churches, synagogoges and mosques to established separate non profit units– like comunity development corps. that would then be accountable to secular rules and regulations.  Obama’s proposal does not go this far.

Next, by establishing a faith based office for civil society which ostensibly is what Obama proposes, an Obama White House will, perhaps unintentionally, give short shrift to the abundance of secular civic institutions around the country. His speech last week said the faith base initiative would not take away from secular programs, which remains to be seen. 

Finally, Obama has been hesitant to talk much about urban poverty and blight. My concern here is that this initiative will conflate his attention to cities into faith based efforts, further ghettoizing issues of poverty and racism as a result.

So, I hope Obama does not wait until next July 4th before he expounds upon some of the unanswered questions in his “patriotic” proposals of this july 4 week.  I hope too that he soon sheds the patriotic flourishes and gets back to the real thing: which is speaking truth to power. There simply is nothing more patriotic than that.

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