Burning Issue

June 27, 2006 | By | 12 Replies More

Once more a “we need to protect the flag” amendment is up before congress.  It could not be more politically timed.  It is soon to be July, wherein the Fourth Day thereof is our national Holy of Holies, when all the good citizens can get hammered on bad beer and blow up (mostly illegal) fireworks in sham commemoration of the blood spilled in freeing us from Britan.  Of course, the “rocket’s red glare” part of that was not from the Revolution but from the War of 1812 (which is largely ignored, btw, in English schools, having been essentially a side-show for them, the bigger problem at the time being Napoleon).

I could go on at length about the political and philosophical idiocy of such a law.  There was a time in this country you could be put in jail for disrespecting the flag–by wearing it as clothing, for instance.  Mostly these were local laws or just vague “ordinances” which all got overturned in the furor over Vietnam, and rightfully so.  A national emblem ought to be versatile.  It ought to be useable by the citizens to express their appreciation or discontent as citizens any way they choose.  So if we can raise the flag and praise the history and institutions which it represents, we should also be able to lower it in disgust when we recognize our country being stupid, arrogant, or criminal.

That is, I thought, one of things that makes us…what’s the word?…FREE.

Anyway, I could go on at length, but I won’t.  I will instead point out a fact of history.  Under the Nazis, it became a felony to desecrate or destroy or misuse the symbols of Germany, which included the eagle and the swastika.  A felony.  The Party then put those symbols on everything of importance to them, so that defacing a Nazi document alone was enough to get you interred.

It seems to me that, although I suspect superlatives as a matter of course, anything Nazi Germany found expedient or “noble” to do ought not be repeated by any nation that considers itself, or wishes to consider itself, decent and moral.

(And btw, next time some frothing-at-the-mouth Fundie calls you a Nazi because you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion, you might point out that in Nazi Germany abortion was a capital offense–for the doctor and the woman.)


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Category: American Culture, Law, Politics

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (12)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    It's hard to even know where to begin the list of what is wrong with Republican efforts to pass this constitutional amendment. If passed, it would be the first time in American history that we have amended the Bill of Rights. Given that Republicans seem to forever complain about so-called "activist" federal judges — i.e., judges who don't adhere to right-wing beliefs about what America's Founding Fathers intended — it is utter hypocrisy for Republicans to now do exactly what they criticize those federal judges for doing. Had the Founders wanted to ban flag burning, they certainly could have and, presumably, would have.

    And, speaking of hypocrisy, exactly what sense does it make for Republicans to complain about terrorists "hating our freedom" when Republicans themselves seem constantly to be attacking those freedoms? It's not enough for them to illegally tap our phones, illegally scan our financial records, illegally usurp women's medical decisions, illegally invade other countries, illegally detain political opponents, illegally torture military captives, etc., now they want to attack the most important freedom that our ancestors died to create: freedom of political expression.

    This will be an historic vote. The tally I heard this morning said the Senate is just one vote short of passing the amendment and that, if passed, it is virtually certain to be ratified by the states (because all fifty states apparently already have their own laws against flag desecration). Accordingly, the future of America's First Amendment now lies in the hands of just one senator.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Whenever I see and hear the Fourth of July fireworks, I think of the hotdog eating crowds reveling in unison: "Thank goodness we are not British!" Even though the Brits are our pals now, I suppose some people do celebrate the core notion of Independence Day: that people should have governmental autonomy. If we are trying to get Iraq on its feet to be a self-governing entity, then, why are we continuing to build fourteen permanent military basis in Iraq?

    On the flag issue, concepts need symmetry to be meaningful. We all want to be proud of our flag. If we can't use the flag to express our frustrations and disappointments, though, it will cheapen the expression of those who want to use the flag to show pride in their country.

    Worrying about the flag itself is to obsess over a symptom rather than the underlying problems. Eliminating this symptom (by outlawing expression) will do nothing to address governmental corruption and fecklessness. Like treating only fever rather than the underlying disease, we would be depriving ourselves of a tripwire necessary for avoiding problems much bigger than protecting pieces of cloth.

    "Defending" the flag is a cheap non-fix (much like "defending marriage"). If the "flag protection" law is enacted, we will spend enormous time and energy worrying about whether particular people are respectfully using the flag, a hopelessly vague endeaver that will alienate many good-hearted people who are in the process of using something much, much more important, the First Amendment.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    What's one big difference between an activist judge and an activist legislator? The latter is free to launch smear campaigns against the former in the press. It would be nice to hear more judges speaking out on the short-sighted antics of our activist legislators.

  4. Jason Rayl says:

    Well, theoretically–I should have put that in quotes–an activist legislator is just doing his job, which is Making Law. Judges, according to one view, aren't supposed to do that–they're supposed to interpret. An activist judge would be one who finds un-legislatively-enacted law in the interstices of past legislative efforts and define into existence rights and wrongs that were previously unvoiced.

    Seems to me the Ninth Amendment permits for exactly that.

  5. Erich Vieth says:


    Good point about the Ninth Amendment. I had to look up the text; it's not often discussed in the case law. But it's right there in the Constitution. For brief discussion, see here.

    The text of the Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    We can all breathe a sigh of relief: the proposed Amendment fell a bare one vote short. Good thing for me: I just bought stamps today that have the American flag printed on them, and I would sure hate to go to jail for "desecrating" the flag by putting my spit on the back to send a letter.

  7. grumpypilgrim says:

    I learned more today about this week's historic vote. There never was any chance of the proposed amendment passing. The reason the vote fell one short was because most Senators had no intention of passing it. Instead, Republicans and a bunch of Democrats (mostly in swing states) wanted to better position themselves for this November's election, so the maximum number of Democrats (and Republicans) voted for the amendment while still ensuring it would fail. The whole thing was just a political stunt orchestrated by the Republican-controlled Congress in an effort to give voters something else to think about this November instead of the expensive disaster in Iraq; i.e., it was fodder for all the voters who base their votes on sound bites and political ads rather than on what Congress is actually (not) doing.

  8. Erika Price says:

    I know a man who used to work in the upper rungs of the Republican Party's campaign planning, who has since jumped ship to work for a nonpartisan organization. He told me that the Republican Party engineers its votes meticulously, even telling its "moderate" congressmen when the party will allow them to vote against the grain for the sake of winning their constituents. I've heard this practice reported on NPR, too. The engineering of showy politics proves very disgusting.

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    It can be very tough to be a freshman congressperson. You are expected to do what the party bosses tell you to do; otherwise, you won't receive plum committee assignments, you won't get to help sponsor bills and, worst of all, you won't be given pork…er, I mean, important federally-funded projects…for your district. It is a sick and twisted environment that often has nothing whatsoever to do with serving the country or representing ones' constituents. Of course, as freshman congresspeople move up the ladder and gain seniority, they gain privileges, one of which is to do to incoming freshmen what was done to them. It's a great example of the sort of social norms I discussed in a previous post (see http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=188).

    What is perhaps most disturbing about Republicans is how much time they waste on legislation they know will never pass, merely for the sake of political maneuvering. Democrats do it, too, of course, but nowhere near as much as Republicans. While the country suffers with serious problems — like border security, immigration, health care, Iraq, etc. — Republicans occupy themselves with worthless bills to ban flag burning and same-sex marriage. And need we even mention their truly outrageous grandstanding over Terri Schiavo?

    In fact, the entire impeachment effort against Clinton was another fine example of Republican bloviation. The impeachment outcome hinged on whether or not Clinton had committed perjury when he lied under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky: no perjury, no valid grounds for impeachment. However, before Congressional Republicans even began their impeachment effort, the federal judge in the case in which Clinton lied under oath had *already ruled* that Clinton had not committed perjury. Thus, Republicans went into the impeachment hearings knowing the whole thing was a sham. It was orchestrated solely to make Clinton (and, by extension, Democrats) look bad, so Repulicans would do better in the next election (which, of course, they did).

    But here's the key question: should we shame Republicans for doing it or should we shame the American public for not paying enough attention to their government to see this garbage for what it is?

  10. Erika Price says:

    Both. And the Democratic Party for a) never having a sound response and b) committing many of the same crimes, if even in smaller amounts. And we should blame the deadlocked two-partiness of the current system, for making these kinds of shams more readily possible. And we should blame the people a second time for not recognizing the inherrent problem with large, extremely rich parties with master plans. We should blame every hand in this enourmous, multifaceted issue, but not with the intention of passing the responsibility. No, we have to take the blame and the initiative too, even if we do notice and care and speak out about the problem. We can always do more. Plenty of corruption to go around.

  11. hogiemo says:

    Yes, we can always do more..and in the end we can never do enough.

    What we need is a national debate about what is essential to maintain that quantum of justice which we call the United States of America. Instead of bitter partisanship and 15 second soundbites comparing the other side to Saddam or Osama, let's us look instead towards distinguishing a possible new future for us and our children in the post Cold War era.

    If we strive to empower those which are powerless or oppressed, seek to protect the gifts of our children and our world, and find it within ourselves to make a choice to include all in participating in the critical decisions of our time, we will not yield to calls for an immoral vision of politics. We must make a stand for these, and for ourselves, lest we lose our way.

  12. grumpypilgrim says:

    Hogiemo's mention of the Cold War reminded me of all the discussion back in the early 1990s about a so-called "peace dividend" that was supposed to happen after the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union split up. What were we going to do with all the money we were going to save when we didn't need to spend so much on our military defense against communism? Of course, we didn't save anything: people with a vested interest in more military spending kept right on lobbying for more money until 9/11 gave them a new opportunity to suck more money out of the public till. I still remember Bush's idiotic campaign ads in 2004 about how America needs more B2 bombers to fight the war on terrorism, as if there are so many terrorist camps in the world that we need a whole fleet of B2s to deal with them all. Meanwhile, neocons argue exactly the opposite belief (again, just to get money) by claiming that terrorism represents a "new threat" to America. In what way is terrorism a "new threat?" Has there ever been a time in American history when someone, somewhere on the planet, didn't want to kill Americans and couldn't find someone to help support the effort? America spends more money on its military than the rest of the world COMBINED, yet we are somehow still unprepared for a terrorist attack? Exactly what sort of attack ARE we prepared for?

    It's time to face the fact that the main reason why politicians in Washington are writing blank checks to "fight the war on terrorism" is not because America is facing some new and enormous threat. The reason is because politicians in Washington realize that *they personally* are on the front lines of the battlefield. If a nuclear bomb or a bio-weapon ever explodes in America, it won't likely be in Memphis or Seattle or Houston; it will most likely be in Washington, and ground zero will most likely be the U.S. Capitol. That's why so many Congressional politicians have thrown common sense out the window to wage war on every imagined "terrorist" threat on the planet, and will probably continue to do so. They might be unwilling to spend public money to support retirees, veterans or welfare mothers, but they are more than willing to spend unlimited public money to protect their own hides. What's "new" about the threat of terrorism isn't that terrorism is a new type of threat; it's that terrorists have never hit so close to home against the people with the power to spend public money.

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