- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oh, say - can you see? Look. It’s President Obama, and he’s surrounded by American flags.

They’re on the dais in star-spangled glory. They’re at the town-hall meeting and the news conference, in bold folds of red, white and blue. The White House has rediscovered - or possibly reinvented - the patriotic cachet of Old Glory as a perfect frame for the new president.

That’s the same president who once would not wear an American flag pin. Things have changed.

“The biggest factor is that Barack Obama is now the president,” said Jack Glaser, a social psychologist with the University of California at Berkeley.

“He’s around more flags now. They’re behind him or on the podium. That’s the reality. He’s not running around on the campaign trail.

“Now that he’s president, Mr. Obama most likely knows he’s an American symbol. So he wears an American flag pin. He appears before American flags. That’s part of the job.”

Mr. Glaser, who has plumbed the mysteries of public patriotism in his studies, urged people to put the phenomenon into perspective.

“I caution people to be careful about their own perceptions and judging these situations,” Mr. Glaser said.

“This does not have the same connotation as the shallow patriotism one might adopt during a political campaign.”

American Legion spokesman Craig Roberts doesn’t care why Mr. Obama flies the flag, just as long as it’s there. “From our point of view, no matter what the motivation - image building, repairing an image - it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the president of the United States appear with the American flag,” he said.

“It sends Americans a message about the office and about patriotism. And it sends a message to the rest of the world as well. So we applaud the combination of President Obama and American flags.”

Some question the turnaround, however.

“Neo-Marxists recognize the power of Old Glory as they steadfastly pursue their agenda,” said talk-radio host Michael Savage. “As Castro taught them, ‘hasta la victoria siempre,’ always towards victory. As the street agitators themselves know, ‘by all means necessary.’ To them, our flag is just a rag.”

Mr. Obama has had some banner-based troubles in recent years. The issue arose in 2007 when he chose not wear a flag pin, defending his decision by saying that flag pins had become a substitute for “true patriotism.”

There was another partisan ruckus when Mr. Obama neglected to salute the flag during “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a campaign stop, and again when an American flag disappeared from the tail of his campaign jet, replaced by an attractive red, white and blue “O.”

On Inauguration Day, some critics were annoyed with Obama supporters who waved American flags with Mr. Obama’s image superimposed on them - a violation of U.S. Flag Code.

Still, Mr. Obama + American flag = good media.

As a complete package, a poised Mr. Obama in historic mode plus the American flag makes a compelling visual, whether splashed across newsprint or video. The presidential gravitas kicks in, outweighing the inevitable distractions of fidgety onlookers or inane commentary from TV anchors caught up in the moment.

Not everyone can pull it off, however.

Stranded in front of a phalanx of mighty flags at the Treasury Department recently, newly minted Secretary Timothy F. Geithner offered a less than riveting speech about the economic crisis. The contrast between man and setting was not good, what with all those monumental stars and bodacious golden fringe - prompting the Associated Press to observe that Mr. Geithner “looked dwarfed by the American flags behind him.”

And woe to the official who does not heed the importance of backdrop - like risque statuary horning in on a big moment.

Canny press photographers got flat on their backs to deliberately include the buxom, bare-breasted Spirit of Justice statue behind Attorney General Edwin Meese on the day he released the final findings of a pornography commission in 1986.

Six years later, his successor John Ashcroft got similar treatment from the mischievous press, and ultimately requisitioned $7,900 for a no-nonsense pair of blue velvet drapes to cover the statue non grata. She had ruined her last photo-op.

“We are actually saving money here. This is more cost-effective,” said a Justice spokeswoman at the time who explained that renting drapes would cost more than $2,000 per event. Besides that, the new drapes could be put up or taken down according to the “aesthetics” of each event.

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