In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank goes into full sarcasm mode over the Senate debate over a constitutional amendment to bar flag burning. At times crossing into bitterness, Milbank still hits a few good points.
The naive among us may have trouble appreciating how four flag-burning episodes would constitute a constitutional crisis. But the men and women of the Senate, ever alert to emerging threats, are on the case.
"I think of the flag as a symbol of what veterans fought for," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said as he opened the debate yesterday, "what they sustained wounds for, what they sustained loss of limbs for and what they sustained loss of life for."
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) saw the calculus somewhat differently.
"They say that flag burning is a rare occurrence; it is not that rare," he told the chamber. An aide hoisted a large blue poster detailing 17 incidents of flag desecration over three years. Hatch, citing "an ongoing offense against common decency," read them all. "That's just mentioning some that we know of; there's a lot more than that, I'm sure," he said.
Never mind that, in most cases, the perpetrators could be prosecuted for theft or vandalism. For Hatch, this was sufficient evidence of the need for an amendment. "Now, I have to tell you," he vouched, "the American people are aggrieved."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) countered with a different set of figures. "There have been only seven acts of flag desecration annually in America in the last six years, so to argue that we have this growing trend toward desecration and burning our flag defies the facts," he said. "In fact, it rarely, if ever, happens. And so why are we about to change the handiwork and fine contribution to America of Thomas Jefferson?"
Next on the floor, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) presented yet another set of statistics. "Exceedingly rare," he concluded. "Two hundred cases in 215 years. Less than 10 cases over the last 10 years."
But Durbin and Dodd were in the minority in their inability to recognize the threat to the flag. Nearly two-thirds of the senators — tantalizingly close to the number needed to pass the amendment — are expected to vote for the flag-burning amendment this week, including Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.), the Democratic leader.
I have mentioned before that I think this amendment is unnecessary and is a waste of time to pursue. As outraged as I get when one of these events actually occurs, it is not a good idea to begin altering the constitution over this. It also opens the door to other prohibitions on speech and I would rather we as a nation do not go down that path.
We should be able to see that the actions of a few jerks cannot take away the symbolic power that the flag has. In fact, their actions reinforce that power and demeans any person or cause that resort to such an action.