I come from a culture that seldom wears pins of any sort. Even in my youth, when men up here wore pins far more often than they do now (partly because they wore suitcoats more often), they would sport a small Rotary or Masonic symbol on the lapel, or some barely-visible symbol on a tie-tack. Especially religious men might have a teeny cross. Except on specifically patriotic occasions, wearing of a flag pin was rare. In fact, all of my cultural influences are non-pinwearing. Northern Europeans, especially Scandinavians, especially Swedes, dislike display in general. New Englanders likewise prefer reserve. Ivy Leaguers are notoriously understated (except, oddly, on vacation at Bar Harbor or the Cape). When my people become Pentecostals, they still worship with considerably less noise than the average mainstreamer anywhere else - except perhaps Minnesota.
So we are suspicious of displays of piety or patriotism, and wonder if those more energetic are trying too hard. It's just unseemly. A bit vulgar. We are largely unaware how quickly we jump to the conclusion that all those others are hypocrites. When I bring that idea out into the open - I tend to do that - people up here deny it. When they are conscious of the connection, they back away from it, because they know that this would be worse than silly. It would be judgmental, drawing conclusions about others' sincerity from what is merely a cultural bias of our own.
But we do. We absolutely do, and you can hear it come into play in religious and political discussions all the time.
This floats the other way, of course. People from other places and traditions are sure that we must not love Jesus, or not love America, because we're quiet. So I will briefly say to my readers from other places knock it off.
But it is my own people who I am taking to task here. First, when you give up displaying a sentiment openly, you will give up the sentiment itself a generation or two later. See, for example, that the disappearance of church attendance started in northern Europe and northern America. The distaste for American flag-waving tends to come from northern Europe. Protesting that you don't have to make a fuss to be a good Christian or a good American is unarguably true. Yet it is a deeper truth that in declining to make a fuss, your body will eventually turn and persuade the mind that it must not be all that important.
But second, and more immediately, this attitude is much more part of blue state disapproval of red state mores than they could endure to contemplate, were they faced with the truth. It leaks out unguarded - no, it often gushes out spitefully - however much it is denied.
I live here. I grew up here. I have been observing this all my life, though I didn't notice it until middle-age, when I became less liberal, then postliberal, and found myself suddenly associated with all these pin-wearers (or flag-raisers) and distancing myself from the pin-shunners. The dissonance was powerful, and I confess that I had to hear it first in the more extreme sneering before I was able to admit that I had any of it at all. And I found its name was Legion.
Third, there is a darker element still. There was another culture which didn't wear flag pins or boisterously sing the national anthem, and I belonged to that as well. This was not a culture of quiet faith or understated patriotism, but a culture which actively rejected faith and patriotism. Remember Frank Zappa's line: "You've seen 'em! You've seen 'em with their little fish on the back of their cars! Just remember. They are the enemy!" Perhaps not coincidentally, that group also drew heavily from the Ivy and (Ivy-wannabee), northern-Europe-admiring crowd.
All this was in play when there was all the fuss about Obama not wearing a flag pin to something-or-other. Politicians are not accidental in their symbolism. But - and students of the various arts take note - symbols have neither a single meaning nor multiple meanings. They have a range of meanings. When Young Goodman Brown grasps the staff that the devil has left for him, is it an act of open rebellion against God, or merely an illustration of how we might choose darkness unawares, almost unconsciously? It is clearly a sign of going into sin, or grasping evil to oneself, but to understand the degree of it, we must get the context from the rest of the story.
So also with not wearing a flag pin. Many conservatives were quick to jump to the most extreme interpretation of the symbol's range: that Obama is a hater of the flag and patriotism. The candidate's supporters declared the meaning came from opposite edge of the symbol's range: he just didn't, our people don't, we don't think patriotism resides in the display of a pin, what are you guys getting so exercised about?
We might try to narrow it down, trying to see what it "really" meant, by getting context from other related behaviors by Obama. But I think that misses an important subtlety. I believe it was meant to be ambiguous across a considerable range of symbol's meaning. In that way, Obama could communicate to several groups at once "I'm one of you. You're my people," while maintaining deniability that he was expressing any such thing. It's what politician's do.