June 19, 1997
Feeling so good about the state of the country, and summer vacations on the horizon, voters tend to forego the innumerable activities of our governing servants. The politicians in the nation's capital tend in turn to proceed with their agenda, mostly conservative nowadays. One pet project, the "Flag Amendment" to the Constitution has quietly reappeared on the Speaker's desk. Since no one is paying attention -- even the press has gone MIA on this issue -- it could just happen that this time the amendment will pass this time around and go to the States for ratification.
You may wonder when the last time was that a flag got burned or urinated upon by some moronic unknown in search of his (generally it's a man) 15 seconds of fame. Actually, it was in the late Eighties and we found this little rhetoric in our archives:
Would a 27th Amendment be a glorious achievement?
One wonders which is the most offensive, the most revolting act between burning the flag for political reasons, as idiotic as those reasons may be, or using it for commercial purposes in the name of greed, as is so often done in ads around the country? Certainly, for all fair purposes, this new amendment would correct such sacrilegious misuses of our national emblem... As Justice Kennedy said, "it is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt." Poignant, because Gregory Johnson, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, would either have been sentenced to death or to a stiff prison term for the same offense either in the Soviet Union or in China, countries that he wishes America would resemble; and fundamental because this is what makes us different from so many other countries and envied by so many peoples in the world. Somehow it seems that this new amendment, in limiting our freedom of speech, would see the triumph of the wicked ideas that Johnson and his like actually advocate when they spit on or burn our flag. But eh!, for once there is a huge majority of the American people that want such an amendment. At last an issue for Congress and the Administration to agree upon in unison and put aside for awhile their ever-lasting quarrels! And everybody will concur that this amendment would still leave plenty of room for free speech; it would actually leave almost untouched our most essential freedom. Everybody, of course, but for the thousands of mutes in this country who clearly understand the notion of "symbolic speech"... Anyway, what is the right of the speech-impaired unfortunates compared to the legitimate emotion of the vast majority against flag desecration? The voices in favor of such an amendment are being heard loud and clear. But one day, another Gregory Johnson will come around who, this time, will burn the Constitution. And that sacrilege, in turn, will call for a 28th Amendment for there would not even be a flag were it not for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. And from then on... Be confident, there will always be a President to solemnly affirm that it "will in no way limit the opportunity nor the breadth of protest available in the exercise of free speech rights"! So, a glorious achievement for our Old Glory? Let us hope that the wisdom of the Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, will eventually prevail.
Tom Foley's wisdom did prevail at the time but since then he was sent back to his dear studies by the voters of the State of Washington and under the banner of the Republican Revolution. His replacement, Newt Gingrich, the Robespierre of the day -- fast turning into Danton -- working hard to polish his tarnished reputation and avoiding the sharpened knives of his Brutus (a.k.a. Dick Armey) has jumped on the bandwagon of cheap moral outrage to join the reactionary movement. At last, a move with no political risks. He'll please his constituents, appear in charge, and everybody else will be off somewhere, basking in the sun.
Meantime, we all shall be orphans of another right.