Hiding Underneath The Fl

Published on 7/10/2005

‘Many a bum show has been saved by the flag,” song and dance man George M. Cohan said when asked why he had patriotic songs and themes in so many of his Broadway shows.

The composer of perennially popular songs like “You're a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” knew something about flag waving for commercial purposes but he surely never envisioned the extremes to which it would be taken by the Congress of the United States.

Six times since 1989, when the Supreme Court reminded the nation that flag burning and other obnoxious acts are protected by the First Amendment, the House of Representatives has tried to negate that decision.

It is as if they had never heard the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation that the First Amendment protects not just “free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Even if Holmes doesn't move them, Republicans, who are the most enthusiastic flag wavers, should have noticed when their colleague, Sen. Mitch McConnell, pointed out, “it (the Constitution) confers its benefits not only on those who love this land but those who hate it.”

Just before the July 4 recess, the House passed an amendment stating, “The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States” and the Senate will take it up soon after Congress returns from its recess Monday. In the past, the Senate has always blocked this foolishness, but it isn't guaranteed this time.

Sixty-five senators have voted for similar amendments in the past or have said they intend to do so this time. Only two more votes are needed to send the amendment to the states where 38 of them must ratify the amendment within seven years in order to enshrine what amounts to an amendment to the First Amendment. Four Democratic senators, up for re-election next year, are among the 65 amendment supporters. McConnell and Robert Bennett of Utah are the only Republican senators opposed.

In the House, three of our congresspersons, Democrat John Larson and Republicans Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons, voted “yes.” All solemnly said they were doing it for the troops. Larson was “honoring the memory of so many vets who died defending our nation.” Johnson said flag desecration “disrespects the memory of our sons and daughters who have served in the armed forces,” and Simmons, a co-sponsor of the bill, said his vote honors “the men and women who fought and died under our colors by protecting its sanctity.”

This crowd-pleasing blather is aimed at voters, not the men and women risking their lives every day in Iraq. They would rather see someone in authority doing something about the poorly armored vehicles and other faulty equipment they are routinely issued. They'd like more troops to help them deal with a savage enemy and they'd like someone to find a way to get them home soon, but all of that is much harder than waving the flag to distract voters from the bum show that has been the 109th Congress.

It is interesting that the principal sponsor of the amendment is one Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a California Republican who has been in the news recently for activities other than defending the flag against all enemies, most of them imagined. (Flag burnings are as rare and as threatening as quilting bees.)

Cunningham, who sits on the Defense Appropriations Committee, sold his home in Del Mar to a defense contractor he had helped get $41 million in government business.

The grateful contractor paid $1.6 million for the house, never moved in and quickly unloaded it for $975,000, taking a $700,000 loss. The congressman used the proceeds of the sale to move up to a $2.4 million home in his district.

But the transaction didn't end Cunningham's relations with the contractor. When in Washington, Cunningham lives on a yacht owned by — of all people — the same contractor. It is named “Duke-Stir” in apparent tribute to the contractor's benefactor, good old Duke Cunningham.

Asked about all this in mid-June, a Cunningham spokesman said a comprehensive statement was being prepared.

It has not yet been released, possibly because the dukester, the congressman, not the boat, has wrapped himself so tightly in the flag, he can't get out. Just another scoundrel finding a last refuge in patriotism.

Dick Ahles is a retired newspaper executive. He lives in Riverton.


© The Day Publishing Co., 2005


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