SMOKE ’EM IF YOU GOT ’EM: Legendary baseball great Satchel Paige once warned, “Don’t look back. They may be gaining.” I’ve got news for Satchel: There ain’t no “maybe” about it. I can feel their fetid breath on the back of my neck, and it’s only getting warmer. This Tuesday, the U.S. Senate came within just one measly vote of celebrating the Fourth of July by torching the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. By that, I’m referring to the 66 U.S. Senators — including California’s ranking Dempublicrat Dianne Feinstein — who voted in favor of amending our Constitution to ban flag burning. They needed 67 votes to send this inane empty gesture back to all 50 states for ratification. This is the third time I can remember that they tried to run this one up the proverbial flag pole to see how many dummies would salute. The good news is that it always loses. The bad news is that the number of supporters always gets bigger. And I’m even sorrier to report that Santa Barbara’s usually sensible Congressmember Lois Capps is one of them. When it comes to tinkering with the Constitution, I tend to take an emphatically restrained approach; you don’t mess unless it’s a really big deal, like securing voting rights for all Americans. (It’s worth noting that congressional Republicans recently blocked an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, initially designed to combat terror tactics deployed to keep black people from voting.) In this context, the flag-burning amendment qualifies as a solution desperately in search of a problem. As a statement of protest — which is what it is — flag burning pretty much went out of style with Nehru jackets, and they haven’t been around since before the great Kohoutek comet no-show. The Left learned long ago that while flag burning might be good for venting pent-up rage of the most infantile sort, it did little to win friends, though much to make enemies. Even proponents of the Constitutional amendment readily concede there’s not a whole lot of flag burning going on. It’s a rare occurrence.
You can make a better case for amending the Constitution to restrict exorbitant late fees charged by greedy video shop owners. At least someone would benefit. Or perhaps to ban politicians from uttering the word “folks” in public speeches; I’ve always found that annoying. But even if people were torching Old Glory in such numbers that the smoke contributed to global warming, it would still be a bad idea to ban flag burning. One of the reasons our country is so freaking great is that our Constitution allows us to burn flags if we want to. It’s called freedom of speech. Look it up. It’s buried somewhere amid all the fine print. Call me naïve, but I’ve always found it odd that people who profess to care so much about the symbol of our freedom could seize upon a remedy so violently at odds with the realities of those freedoms and the principles from which those freedoms derive. Talk about your perverse ironies: kind of like raping to save chastity. Given all the other freedoms that are currently being trampled underfoot — like the freedom from government spying — I am especially mystified that Capps would lend her vote and her good name to this charade. The only way the flag-protection ploy makes any rational sense is as a political contrivance designed to galvanize the raw-meat contingent of the Republican Party’s white-wing base. (Again, I don’t see how a liberal Democrat like Lois gains by joining that crowd.) Given how far Bush’s overweening, unchecked, and unfettered unilateralism has strayed from anything remotely resembling core “conservative” principles, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do. Last month Republican senators unleashed a proposed Constitutional amendment to save heterosexual marriage from the blasphemies of gay and lesbian imitators, but it failed to clear its first legislative hurdle. Now that the flag ban has also failed, what’s next? A Constitutional ban on gay illegal immigrants from adopting unwanted American babies and converting them to their illicit lifestyles?
Naturally, Democrats — not wanting to face accusations that they’re “soft on flag burning” — have allowed themselves to be steamrolled on this one, mistakenly arguing, and perhaps even believing, that a Constitutional amendment abridging our freedom of speech is merely a meaningless symbolic gesture. To justify their glaring spinal deficiencies, many Democrats have embraced a semantic dodge, arguing that flag burning technically does not qualify as political speech but, rather, is an action. While such pseudo-clever sophistry makes me want to reach for my gun, I should give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, there’s a lot of confusion in political circles about what constitutes political speech these days. When politicians in Washington, D.C., take large campaign donations from oil companies and labor unions fearful that Congress might actually pass a sensible law requiring higher fuel efficiencies, for example, that’s not considered bribery. That’s not even considered “an action.” Like nowhere else on Planet Earth, people in Washington know that “money talks,” and they’ve decreed that campaign spending qualifies as “political speech.” As such, it is to be protected at all costs from the slings and arrows of would-be campaign finance reformers — who earlier this week got shot down again by the Supreme Court. One would expect that people steeped in such nuanced semantic sophistication where campaign donations are concerned might have intuitively grasped how flag burning was also a form of political expression. No doubt they were mystified because there’s no exchange of cash in the process, only the release of smoke and hot air.
I expect to get bludgeoned by Republicans like Orrin Hatch, Bill Frist, and all those other pious poseurs. But when I’m beaned in the head by the likes of Lois Capps, well, that hurts. In the meantime, I don’t know how I’ll be celebrating the Fourth. Who knows, I might just burn a flag. To be honest, I’ve always thought it a dumb-ass thing to do. But the way things are going, it may be my last chance.
— Nick Welsh