Patriotism, the last refuge of scoundrels, thrives

Let’s see:

  • The immoral, illegal and interminable war in Iraq drags on, killing our kids as well as Iraqi citizens while squandering our wealth.
  • Our economy heads for the toilet as the price of gas skyrockets and consumer confidence plunges.
  • North Korea and Iran continue to work on their nuclear arsenals.
  • Lack of a “guest worker” program allows exploitation of illegal immigrants to continue even while some workers sacrifice their lives trying to cross the Mexican border.
  • The insane War on Drugs rages on, ruining lives and filling our prisons. (I could go on, but I’m fresh out of Prozac.)

So what are majority members of our “compassionately conservative” Congress, who have historically low approval ratings from those who elected them, doing to occupy their valuable time and earn their generous salaries?

Nothing about these problems, of course, since that would demand more political courage and wisdom than can be mustered by these timid souls. They are, however, expending plenty of energy on matters of a more ethereal nature that are apparently expected to serve them well during re-election campaigns.

Along with their recent posturing as some kind of ethical (!) experts and making a big stink over disconnecting a brain-dead woman’s feeding tube, our lowly-esteemed solons are once again trying to pass a Constitutional amendment that would allow the federal government to outlaw burning or otherwise desecrating the American flag.

Yeah, even though flag-burning is not exactly an incendiary issue or even a smoldering one — it’s an extremely rare practice, in fact, but one the U.S. Supreme Court has declared protected political speech — our legislators have apparently been seized by the urgency of getting it under complete control, and flag lapel pins are once again in vogue.

The proposed amendment, which needs the approval of twothirds of both legislative bodies and three-fourths of the states before becoming law, easily passed the House last month and is close to the support it needs in the Senate.

Torching Old Glory is not a very effective means of speech in my mind, since it makes many folks fly into a patriotic rage, but it is nonetheless an act that expresses a strong opinion about immoral wars and so on.

The flag itself is only a scrap of colored cloth, of course, but one that has traditionally stood for certain principles that can’t be destroyed by fire or any other means except not living up to them – like banning free speech, for example. Obviously most people – particularly politicians – don’t object to popular expression (“My country right or wrong,” for instance), so the only speech that needs protection is that which is generally despised. (Often the truth, for instance.)

So by pushing for such a Constitutional amendment our worthy solons (I’m being sarcastic here) are actually undermining the First Amendment of that allegedly sacred document and imposing the kind of restrictions on free expression that are usually found in banana republics and tinhorn dictatorships, where the national leader’s visage glares from posters on every street corner and criticizing the government is a crime.

But wrapping themselves in the red, white and blue whenever the chance arises is behavior only to be expected from pandering lawmakers far more interested in re-election than living by in a philosophy consistent with the Bill of Rights. (Including that former conservative principle that those who governed best governed least.)

Unfortunately, those who have committed their support to this shameful and completely unnecessary abridgement of our civil liberties include Colorado’s freshman Sen. Ken Salazar, a nominal Democrat who had promised to take “a hard look” at the proposal after his brother John, another so-called moderate Democrat who represents us in the House, voted with the two-thirds majority there to demonstrate his halfbaked, poorly reasoned patriotism.

In announcing his support, Sen. Salazar mouthed some predictable pap about how the flag deserves our “reverence and protection,” which makes me wonder, in light of our approaching Independence Day, if his concern would include the glut of imported starspangled banners produced by slave labor in Chinese sweatshops and available at all our major discount chains. (Probably not a lot of reverence is shown by the forced laborers who stitch them up and possibly wipe their hands and other body parts on them.)

I, too, believe that the hallowed principles represented by our national symbol need to be protected, but that’s the distinction these lawmakers don’t get: Protecting the principles for which the flag stands is far more important than protecting the flag itself.

And criminalizing free speech — no matter how loathsome that speech may be to some — will accomplish the exact opposite while also demonstrating the blatant hypocrisy of a country whose stated goal is to spread liberty and democracy to the unenlightened corners of the world.

What’s next – an amendment that would ban all criticism of our glorious leaders?

Don’t laugh. The government assault on free speech (Can you say ‘Patriot Act’?) has only just begun.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez


From David Long, July 2005.