It's not only still there, it's everywhere. At the polls and by the pool, the Stars and Stripes sells

Breaking News

The presidential candidate needed to prove beyond a doubt that he loved his country and could appeal to a wide range of skeptical voters. So he wrapped himself in red, white and blue.

No, not Sen. Barack Obama, who took to a flag-adorned stage to orate on patriotism last week. The candidate in question was William McKinley, whose campaign manager, Mark Hanna, draped the Civil War veteran in the Stars and Stripes during the presidential election of 1896. In McKinley's contest against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, the Republicans handed out hundreds of thousands of flags at rallies across the country. Hanna's "Patriotic Heroes Battalion," a group led by revered Civil War generals, toured the Midwest and West aboard a train bedecked with oceans of bunting. At countless stops, campaign workers unfurled the Stars and Stripes on two 30-foot, collapsible flagpoles that sat atop one of the train's flatcars. It was a veritable Patriotism Express. And it worked.

The American flag has been used by virtually every candidate in every presidential election since then. But the tactic was relatively novel in McKinley's day; before 1861, it was almost unheard of for individual Americans to fly the flag. Today, wherever we see a would-be officeholder, we also see a sea of flags, as well as audiences sporting T-shirts, baseball caps, earrings and halter tops in red, white and blue.

comments powered by Disqus