We have a lot of really big issues to debate right now in this country. The war in Iraq, what we are doing about terrorism, the situation in the Gulf Coast and what to do about FEMA, jobs, the environment and global warming, the protection of our intelligence assets, the record national debt and ongoing deficits, the accessibility of healthcare to millions of people who are being priced out of the market, fuel costs and energy policy, Social Security, protecting our children from predators, immigration, Iran, North Korea, education, the list is endless.
However, I predict that the issue we will hear the most about in the next election is none of these. It will be about the ruling by District Judge Lawrence Karlton that two districts in California cannot allow their students to recite the pledge of Allegiance containing the two words, 'under God.'
Now, I have my own opinion about that, which is that the phrase does not invoke a supplication to Deity, nor is saying the pledge (or for that matter mouthing those particular words when saying the pledge) mandatory in any situation. Heck, go to any large public event and you will probably see people sitting and chatting during the pledge, or during the national anthem. Therefore, there is no reason to claim that it is an enforcement of belief, and in fact, it has been said as it is since 1952, so it is likely as much a part of nearly every American by now as the recognition of the motto, 'In God we Trust' on the money, so there are no real grounds to change it. I would further suspect that the majority of liberals would agree with my position on that, even though it is in contrast to what conservatives are always trying to claim that liberals believe in. In fact, a couple of years ago when the original ruling was issued by the ninth circuit, I immediately contacted my school board member and suggested that if such a nonsensical policy were put into force here, then perhaps the school might simply raise the flag five minutes early every day and the public could stand on the street (public access) and say the pledge INCLUDING all of its words, together.
However this goes, it is a minor issue. The fact that such a big deal is being made over it however is in keeping with the stuff that the right usually throws into elections. For example, every election cycle, we hear again about a flag burning amendment (never mind that there was exactly one documented instance of an American flag being burned last year in America in protest-- to listen to the right wing, replete with stock footage of flag burnings from decades ago, or taken from Al Jazeera broadcasts from that part of the world, you'd almost think that the sidewalks of American cities were lined with people standing side by side burning one flag after another.) The purpose of the 'flag desecration amendment' is not to change the Constitution. It is to get Democrats who oppose changing the most important document in the world just to stifle a handful of kooks, on record as 'supporting people burning, urinating on and walking on the flag,' so that Republicans can use it as political fodder.
We have seen the same kind of stuff on other issues, such as last year when the Republican National Committee sent out mailings to West Virginia voters advising that Democrats had a secret plan to ban the Bible (that one worked, by the way-- until then Kerry was even with Bush in that state, but after the flier went out he never came within striking distance again.) You will also hear them pounding the drums on the Death Penalty (completely ignoring the fact that aside from the Federal Death Penalty, which covers a very small number of inmates, the death penalty, its use, its legality and its ethics are purely state issues that the courts occasionally issue rulings on, but the President and Congress have almost no say on it.) I even remembered the year I lived in Texas, the Republican candidate for railroad commissioner won by running 'tough on the death penalty ads' (I guess in case they ever decide that tying people to the tracks is a legitimate method of execution). You will probably also see a number of gay marriage amendments (11 were on the ballot, mostly, by 'coincidence' in swing states last year, or states like Oklahoma that had a critical Senate race, and not surprisingly, the states where they are working on it for 2006 all have a Democratic governor and/or a possible tight Senate race; I wonder if Mr. Rove had anything to do with this?
But hey, this is nothing new. Republicans know they can't win on the issues in most places, so they have learned obfuscation, distortion and personal attacks, and raised them to a new level.
But now they have a newer issue. Thanks to the court ruling, you will hear about how Democrats are 'anti-American (and frankly, even those who want to return to the pre-1952 pledge would only be reciting the same version of the pledge that millions of Americans took during WWII-- were they anti-American too?) We will see it overtake the real issues, as this kind of stuff always seems to.