This is one of those outstanding moments in life:
I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I have a few of those little, tiny flags that they distribute at the 4th of July around here. They're just made of very cheap cloth, but when they wear out and fall off the sticks, I have painstakingly folded them into tiny triangles and stored them until I could dispose of them properly. That day never comes, because it's a chore I continually forget, so I now have quite a few American flags to dispose of in the traditional fashion.
This morning, Republicans tell me that a worker at Invesco Field in Denver saved thousands of unused flags from the Democratic National Convention that were headed for the garbage. Guerrilla campaigning. They will use these flags at their own event today in Colorado Springs with John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Before McCain speaks today, veterans will haul these garbage bags filled with flags out onto the stage — with dramatic effect, no doubt — and tell the story.
They are stored in the very top of my closet, on the top of my hat boxes, because I would never set anything on top of an American flag or a Bible. Why not? I really couldn't tell you why. It's just how I was raised.
I sympathize somewhat with the Obama supporters who are pulling their hair out over this story: 'Why can't we get past this kind of thing, and talk about what we think are the real issues facing the nation?' Substance is surely more important than symbol, yes. Yet there is a reason you can't 'get past' it, and that is this: you don't understand what these symbols mean to people.
Men are both rational and irrational. We have a part of our soul for each. The irrational part is not bad, and can be very good: it is what gives rise to love as well as hate, joy as well as sorrow. Even sorrow can be noble, when it points the way to the beautiful, for a man ought to be able to mourn the loss of something beautiful.
A man who wishes to lead must be the right kind of man: he has to win the loyalty and service of his fellows. This is the real meaning of the Marine Corps University motto, Ductus Exemplo, "Command by Example." It is not that you should set a good example in the hope that others will follow. It is that the example you set is what wins the right to command. Men follow you because their hearts tell them to do so.
Substance matters, no doubt about it. It is not enough alone, however: it never can be.
UPDATE: Think they found 12,000 people to give 'em to? Looks like it to me.
Hard to say for sure, though, since the NYT piece doesn't mention the flags. At all.
UPDATE: The NYT piece has now changed the picture, so it no longer shows the massive McCain-Palin rally. It now shows Sen. Obama standing in a small ring by himself.