Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Speechifying

[[P O L I T I C S]] * Somehow, common sense managed to break out in the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate today. Although supporters of a constitutional amendment to criminalize “desecration of the American flag”--aka flag burning--thought at one point that they might have the 67 votes required to send this ridiculous and unnecessary amendment out to the 50 states for possible ratification, they in fact fell short by one vote. The amendment failed by a 66-34 vote, the closest it has come to passage in the 17 years since it was originally proposed in Congress.

The measure’s opponents, mostly Democrats, argued that it would represent an infringement on America’s Bill of Rights, and that the incidence of flag burning is so rare as to be inconsequential. (One study found fewer than 50 episodes of flag burning in the last 200 years.) Think Progress noted that passage of this amendment would “place the United States among a select group of nations that have banned flag desecration, including Cuba, China, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.” Republican backers of the measure, however, contended that the U.S. flag is “a unique national symbol that merited special standing,” as The New York Times paraphrased their arguments. “It is time that this body acted to protect Old Glory,” declared Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky). The GOP though, is motivated in this matter by more than a simple wish to protect the Stars and Stripes. With polls showing American voters consistently displeased with George W. Bush’s “leadership,” worried about skyrocketing gas prices and the nation’s record-breaking budget deficits, and increasingly favoring a sooner-rather-than-later end to the prez’s disastrous Iraq war, Republicans are desperate to rally their conservative, Christianist base. Which is why they’re now emphasizing a bevy of evergreen causes, including the recently defeated amendment to ban same-sex marriages, the flag burning amendment, and a permanent end to the nation’s estate tax (a campaign put on hold this week, after ever-ineffective Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist [R-Tennessee] determined that there weren’t enough votes to pass it before July 4). And don’t forget Bush’s renewed call for Congress to give him line-item veto power, even though he hasn’t had the courage yet to use the veto power he already possesses.

Any of these ostensibly patriotic and right-friendly endeavors is easier for GOP politicians to get behind than potentially more divisive proposals to end the worsening bloodshed in Iraq, put the American economy back on an even keel, provide affordable health care for all Americans, or restore public trust in the secretive, deceptive Bush White House. So you can expect to hear much more about such schemes between now and the November midterm elections, even if all the congressional bloviating and partisan bickering results in no legislation actually being passed.

READ MORE:Capture the Flag,” by Michael Scherer (Salon).

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