Sunday, July 09, 2006

Torching The Constitution

Although it's once again old news on the political scene, at least until the Republicans dredge it back up again, I cannot help but spend some space here talking about the near-miss in the Senate over the "Flag Burning" Amendment. This little bit of zombie legislation rises from the grave every couple of election years (the last was in 2000) as an attempt to rally conservative voters to the polls. Perhaps it works in that respect; I don't pretend to understand or much care exactly what motivates conservatives to vote for the idiots they elect. I do know, however, that with it's passage saved by only one vote in the Senate, this Amendment will inevitably shuffle back out of the Republican necropolis once again, probably in 2008. Maybe some noise from the liberal side of the country could help put the stake through the Flag Burning Amendment's heart once and for all.

First, let's see what the Grand Wizard of Wingnuts, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R - Catkiller) has to say about this Amendment, another of Frist's pet projects (from the LA Times, via KTLA):

"Old Glory lost today," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), one of the amendment's prime backers. "At a time when our armed services are defending America's freedom in the war on terror, it's unfortunate that a minority of my colleagues blocked" the proposal.

It's just a bit unsettling that the Senate Majority Leader finds the process of democracy "unfortunate". I find it unfortunate that our Senate wastes its time and my tax dollars endlessly debating these pointless bits of conservative fluff.

I have two thoughts on flag burning. First, an Amendment like this is a clear limiting of the First Amendment, which should automatically take it off the table for any U.S. Senator that supports the Constitution. Unfortunately, it seems that most Republican Senators see the Constitution as a sort of work in process; it lays a nice groundwork but really isn't terribly relevant in its details today. That's more than a little frightening, given the Republican's control of Washington.

No Constitutional Amendment should ever be proposed or, worse, ratified, that limits the rights of Americans; rights which are already clearly established. Burning the flag is a symbolic protest of the policies of the U.S. government. The Supreme Court has found that flag burning is protected speech, and thus it should remain.

My second thought on the flag burning amendment is that it elevates the flag itself above the very ideas which the flag symbolizes. Curtailing our free speech as a way of protecting the nation's symbols strikes me as eerily reminiscent of the sort of nationalism which gripped Germany in the 1930's. Giving the flag a special protected status effectively makes it more important under the law than the people to whom this nation is supposed to belong. It gives a symbol of nationalism and government power (maybe even military power) a status above the principles which make our nation a free democracy. We as a nation are better off deciding for ourselves whether and how much to respect the symbols of our nation. Our democracy loses some of its meaning when the government decides that for us.

As a personal note, this is actually the first political position I hold that's been challenged openly in quite some time. I take that as an indication of just how powerful a symbol of our nation the flag has become. I also see it as a sign of how much the Republicans have exploited the natural patriotism of Americans to sow dissension among us. Hard to believe true conservatives could fall for such a cheap political ploy, but then the Cult of Bush is strong...

I also stand by my pledge, made to many in person now, that if this Amendment ever passes, I will buy a flag and burn it in the middle of Main Street Viroqua. Maybe even LaCrosse...

[Editor's note: Sorry for the extended absence. Work, life and a horrendous case of writer's block took me out of commission for a week. This post alone sat incomplete for over a week! I think I'm better now (I hope)...]

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