Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Flag Burning Amendment.

It must be an election year, the Republicans are in control of the agenda, and they have nothing substantive to run on. How do I know that?

Well, today, the Senate opened debate on a flag-burning amendment.

Last year, I did a post in which I pointed out that exactly ONE flag was burned in the United States in 2004 protest.

Then last year, according to a site owned by supporters of an amendment, they could only find twelve incidents of 'flag desecration' in the entire country.

Let me say that again. A dozen in the entire country in an entire year, as researched by supporters of the amendment (I'm even giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that every word they say on that page is accurate.)

And, in all but a couple of the cases that have been solved, the perpetrators were teenagers, drunk or both. If anything, I would question whether the publicity afforded because of the kind of rhetoric we hear may be inciting drunk or rebellious teens to do something that might not have even crossed their mind minus the phony flag-burning 'debate.' Further, in every single one of the twelve cases a crime already on the books was committed, and either the perpetrators were arrested or the case remains open. The crimes included arson, theft, vandalism, incitement to riot, disturbing a public assembly and other unspecified charges (likely including public intoxication) as well as all those relating to flag desecration that the group could come up with that are apparently still being enforced locally (in none of the twelve cases was this the only crime which apparently had been committed.)

And I'd even add one more (maybe): There was an incident in which a group calling itself the 'Islamic Thinkers Society' ripped up a flag in New York and put it on video, mainly it seems for the benefit of people who want to ban flag burning (I wonder if someone over there on the right paid them to deliver the tape just in time for the fourth of July last year, since they had been forced to use old 1960's era stock footage of someone actually destroying a flag). This only shows one thing though. If this incident (which seems remarkably staged-- probably why it wasn't listed in the link above) was in fact genuine then it seems that all the publicity we are giving it is certainly contributing to such incidents as there are.

All this is exactly why we DON'T need a flag burning amendment. There is no epidemic of flag burning in the United States. Twelve cases, up from one the year before is no evidence that this is a problem, and in every case there are already local laws that cover the situation (especially since it seems that the flag burners involved apparently prefer to burn someone else's flag). The way the right would have you hear it, there are avenues practically lined with flag burners, who are creating a serious threat to the security of our nation (and just think of the greenhouse gases emitted). But it just ain't so.

Now consider a document which is practically sacred. The basis of our freedom, which makes America unique among all the nations of the world in being the first, and for a long time, the only, free society on earth. This document has only been amended 27 times in the history of the Republic (in fact only seventeen, as the first ten were included when it was written), and when it was, it was nearly always amended to spell out broad freedoms and rights given to millions of people, in fact an expansion of freedom. The only exception, where any kind of freedom was limited, was the 18th (prohibition)* which also stands as the only amendment that was considered such a massive mistake that within a few years another amendment was passed to repeal it. Now, is our generation's legacy going to be that we will add an amendment not guaranteed to expand anyone's right, but only to silence a handful of kooks?

And I will give credit where credit is due. The Senate's number 2 Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on ABC's 'This Week'

I think the First Amendment has served us well for over 200 years. I don't think it needs to be altered.

Which in my opinion bodes well, if the Republicans manage to keep control of the Senate (which hopefully won't happen.) Given that Bill Frist is leaving the Senate, and the number 3 man, Rick Santorum, is in serious trouble in his race for re-election (with his conservatism being the biggest strike against him in Pennsylvania), McConnell will almost certainly become the new Minority Leader (or Majority Leader if we don't get to 51). It means that instead of continuing to fight this dragon every year, Democrats may actually have a chance to slay it once for at least the next several years if we can get enough votes this year to scuttle it. Apparently it won't be way up there on McConnell's agenda to bring back again.

Well, maybe not, but in an election year it 1) makes a great diversion from the real issues which face us, and 2) you can always get people on record who have the good sense and guts to vote against it and run some commercials back home which practically show them holding a blowtorch to a flag.

*- some might argue that the 27th amendment, which was actually written by James Monroe and ratified 200 years later, and which limits the ability of Congress to vote pay raises to itself, is a restriction of freedom. It has only been part of the Constitution for a dozen years though, and was completely unnecessary were it not for the failure of the people to vote out Congressmen who voted themselves pay raises after midnight.

cross posted at Night Bird's Fountain.


Anonymous said...

I was going to comment that a number of Republicans were also opposed to this amendment, but I see that only three voted no - Bennett, Chafee, and McConnell. I really thought more Republicans were opposed to this Amendment when it was introduced last year. Wasn't McCain against this one until recently?

I will note that 14 Democrats voted for the Amendment. Here's a link to the roll call vote in case anyone wants to know how specific senators voted.

Anyway, the Amendment failed - by one vote - so this issue is dead until the next Congress. Yippee!

Eli Blake said...

And with any luck, either Democrats will control the Senate and Reid won't let it come up again, or in a worst case scenario, Republicans will still control the Senate but McConnell will replace Frist as the Majority leader and he won't let it come back next year.

Anonymous said...

I doubt McConnell would be able to simply block the Amendment from a vote. This was Take 7 for the flag burning amendment, and each time now the Senate has voted on it after the House approved it. I only see four races where there might be a change this year and where the new senator might reasonably be expected to vote differently from the incumbent - and two of those are where "yes" votes might replace "no" votes.

Among opponents to the amendment there are two retiring senators (Jeffords, Sarbanes) and four facing real reelection battles (Akaka, Cantwell, Chafee, Lieberman). I'm guessing Whitehouse and Lamont would be "no" votes, and Case and Sanders each voted against it in the House last year, but I suspect McGavick and Steele would be "yes" votes if they win.

The rest of the retirees and endangered incumbents all supported this bill, so there should be an opportunity to add "no" votes. Not in TN or OH, though, where Ford and Brown each voted "yes" last year. And unless Casey's made statements to the contrary I wouldn't count on him as a "no" vote. Ditto for Kean. My guess is Tester and Klobuchar would vote "no", but I'm not certain of either's position.

At this point I'd say it's more likely that there will be more "no" votes next session than in this one, based on Tester's and Klobuchar's strength and the (somewhat remote) chance that either Casey or Kean might vote "no".

Anonymous said...

The VA race is another opportunity to add a "no" vote, although I think that race is still a longshot for Webb.

Eli Blake said...

I strongly suspect Tester would be a 'no' vote.

Besides, I also think the reason it is one vote shy (as it was a few years ago) is because a lot of people who might actually think that way are taking the liberty to vote yes so they can avoid the negative ink. But these guys know how to count votes, and I suspect that among the 'yes' votes, there are probably at least a dozen (and not just Democrats) who would in fact vote 'no' if they REALLY thought it was going to pass. This is grand theater, choreographed to fire up the base in an election year, a lot like the gay marriage amendment.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe this is grandstanding, Eli. The last time this Amendment was voted on, in 2000, it failed on a 63-37 vote, and everyone who was in office both years voted the same way both times.

Also, I suspect that if one "no" vote had been absent this Amendment would have passed, as a 66-33 vote would have been sufficient for passage.

Eli Blake said...


As I recall, though, the time before that it was 66-34, and the reason it failed is that one of the Senators from North Dakota (I think it might have been Conrad) switched his previous 'yes' vote to 'no' when it became clear it would pass without his doing that. I suspect that there are probably several more who are like that, and if they absolutely have to change to prevent it from passing, they will.

Anonymous said...

I went back and checked the record, Eli. It turns out we both have some facts wrong, but you've got more of the important facts right than I do.

According to wikipedia the flag burning amendment has been introduced 6 times since the 1994 election (not 7 as I stated) and has passed the House each time. However, the Senate has voted on the Amendment only three of the six times - in 1995, 2000, and 2006 - so I'll agree there's some hope that McConnell could prevent a vote were he to become majority leader. I'll also concede that holding the vote when everyone knew there wasn't enough votes for passage was grandstanding.

The 1995 Senate vote was a 63-36 vote, and again only 4 Republicans voted "no" - Bennett, Jeffords, McConnell, and the elder Chafee. All of the Democrats who voted in both 1995 and 2000 voted the same way each time.

I really doubt that some of the "yes" votes would switch to "no" votes were there to be a net gain of one "yes" vote among incoming senators next year, though. It certainly takes a certain amount of cowardice to vote "yes" when you believe "no" is appropriate, and I don't think anyone who does so would have the courage to stand up and vote "no" if the amendment would otherwise pass. Hopefully, we'll never have to find out which one of us is correct on that opinion.