Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Clark and flag burning

Clark has apparently said that he favors a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning:

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Breaking with most of his Democratic rivals, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said Tuesday he favors amending the Constitution to ban flag burning.

Lawmakers have debated such an amendment almost annually since 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled that destroying the American flag amounted to protected free speech.

Now, I'm not going to get into an argument about this issue in particular. I oppose the amendment and let's leave it at that.

What I have to wonder is whether this was a smart political move for Clark to make. It may win him a few converts in the "rally around the flag" crowd but it's also possible that it could dissuade a few more liberal supporters from joining his campaign.

But, even more troubling, is how Clark will reconcile this position with his "Dissent is Patriotic" theme.

My greatest admiration for Clark comes from his efforts to push the idea of a "New American Patriotism" that doesn't require people to unflinchingly support the actions of their country in order to be considered patriotic. He is trying to reclaim the flag for the Democratic party (Dean has tried to do this as well, but, being a general, Clark has a better chance of accomplishing it). This is something I have been urging Democrats to do for years and I was heartened to see him do it.

But the flag burning amendment is precisely the wedge issue that the Republicans have tried to use to make Democrats look un-American. Clark looked like he was trying to fight this wedge by making it safe for people to protest their countries actions. But, by supporting the amendment, Clark is joining those who say that certain forms of dissent are UN-patriotic.

I hope he can successfully reconcile these themes. As it is, by bringing it up he may be opening as big a can of worms as Dean did with his confederate flag comment.

Update: Here's a story about Dean's position on this issue:

Dean wouldn't change U.S. Constitution for flag

January 17, 2002

By DAVID MACE Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER — Gov. Howard Dean said he doesn’t support a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration, but is comfortable with suggesting it to Congress as the Vermont Legislature did last week.

“I favor protection of the flag, but I do not favor a constitutional amendment,” Dean said Monday. “A constitutional amendment should be passed only in very rare circumstances.”

He said that he supported the resolution that passed both the House and Senate last week by wide margins. It voiced support for protecting the flag and suggested a constitutional amendment as one possible option, but stopped short of calling on Congress to take that step.

While the language in the resolution allowed both sides to claim victory in the contentious fight, it has also allowed some politicians like Dean to argue both sides of the issue.

“I do believe the flag ought to be protected,” he said. “... I don’t think you should amend the (U.S.) Constitution without a deep purpose. Protecting the flag is certainly a deep purpose, but I don’t believe you can amend the Constitution for that.”

Oh well. I guess we can't expect political courage on every issue.

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