Monday, June 27, 2005

Burning the Flag

I tried hard to work up enthusiasm for the flag-burning amendment passed last week by the House of Representatives on the theory that if the Left is against it, it must be a good thing. Nevertheless, I just can't get too excited about it. I tend instead to agree with Peter Schramm at No Left Turns who tells us:

My grandfather got 10 years at hard labor for having a small American flag in his house. The first thing he wanted to see when they let hime out was that flag. He thought the imprisonment was worth it. When I was monitoring the first free elections in Bulgaria soon after the fall of Communism in a dusty village near the Black Sea I noticed that there were many small American flags here and there, especially on cars. I walked up to an old woman and asked her why there were all these American flags about. She looked at me as if I were an idiot and said, "Freedom. It represents freedom." Enough said. Those who burn Old Glory make a political statement. I like to know where people stand.

Schramm's right. Allowing flag-burning serves a noble public purpose. It helps us to identify the morons in our midst and gives us ample justification for labeling them as such. Schramm links to a Mark Steyn column on the matter which eloquently expands upon the point. Steyn writes:

The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument: "Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment."

Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn't presume to speak for those who died atop the World Trade Center. For one thing, citizens of more than 50 foreign countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, were killed on 9/11. Of the remainder, maybe some would be in favor of a flag-burning amendment; and maybe some would think that criminalizing disrespect for national symbols is unworthy of a free society. And maybe others would roll their eyes and say that, granted it's been clear since about October 2001 that the federal legislature has nothing useful to contribute to the war on terror, and its hacks and poseurs prefer to busy themselves with a lot of irrelevant grandstanding with a side order of fries, but they could at least quit dragging us into it.

And maybe a few would feel as many of my correspondents did last week about the ridiculous complaints of "desecration" of the Quran by U.S. guards at Guantanamo -- that, in the words of one reader, "it's not possible to 'torture' an inanimate object."

That alone is a perfectly good reason to object to a law forbidding the "desecration" of the flag. For my own part, I believe that, if someone wishes to burn a flag, he should be free to do so. In the same way, if Democrat senators want to make speeches comparing the U.S. military to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, they should be free to do so. It's always useful to know what people really believe.

For example, two years ago, a young American lady, Rachel Corrie, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. Her death immediately made her a martyr for the Palestinian cause, and her family and friends worked assiduously to promote the image of her as a youthful idealist passionately moved by despair and injustice. "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," a play about her, was a huge hit in London. Well, OK, it wasn't so much a play as a piece of sentimental agitprop so in thrall to its subject's golden innocence that the picture of Rachel on the cover of the Playbill shows her playing in the backyard, age 7 or so, wind in her hair, in a cute, pink T-shirt.

There's another photograph of Rachel Corrie: at a Palestinian protest, headscarved, her face contorted with hate and rage, torching the Stars and Stripes. Which is the real Rachel Corrie? The "schoolgirl idealist" caught up in the cycle of violence? Or the grown woman burning the flag of her own country? Well, that's your call. But because that second photograph exists, we at least have a choice.

Have you seen that Rachel Corrie flag-burning photo? If you follow Charles Johnson's invaluable Little Green Footballs Web site and a few other Internet outposts, you will have. But you'll look for it in vain in the innumerable cooing profiles of the "passionate activist" that have appeared in the world's newspapers.

One of the big lessons of these last four years is that many, many beneficiaries of Western civilization loathe that civilization -- and the media are generally inclined to blur the extent of that loathing. At last year's Democratic Convention, when the Oscar-winning crockumentarian Michael Moore was given the seat of honor in the presidential box next to Jimmy Carter, I wonder how many TV viewers knew that the terrorist "insurgents" -- the guys who kidnap and murder aid workers, hack the heads off foreigners, load Down's syndrome youths up with explosives and send them off to detonate in shopping markets -- are regarded by Moore as Iraq's Minutemen. I wonder how many viewers knew that on Sept. 11 itself Moore's only gripe was that the terrorists had targeted New York and Washington instead of Texas or Mississippi: "They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C. and the plane's destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!"

In other words, if the objection to flag desecration is that it's distasteful, tough. Like those apocryphal Victorian matrons who discreetly covered the curved legs of their pianos, the culture already goes to astonishing lengths to veil the excesses of those who are admirably straightforward in their hostility.

If people feel that way, why protect them with a law that will make it harder for the rest of us to see them as they are? One thing I've learned in the last four years is that it's very difficult to talk honestly about the issues that confront us. A brave and outspoken journalist, Oriana Fallaci, is currently being prosecuted for "vilification of religion," which is a crime in Italy; a Christian pastor has been ordered by an Australian court to apologize for his comments on Islam. In the European Union, "xenophobia" is against the law. A flag-burning amendment is the American equivalent of the rest of the West's ever more coercive constraints on free expression. The problem is not that some people burn flags; the problem is that the world view of which flag-burning is a mere ritual is so entrenched at the highest levels of Western culture.

Banning flag desecration flatters the desecrators and suggests that the flag of this great republic is a wee delicate bloom that has to be protected. It's not. It gets burned because it's strong. I'm a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment, some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don't ask me why -- we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo's boys. I've never been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling "Death to the Little Satan!" But you can't have everything.

That's the point: A flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that's not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can't stand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business. It's the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand that the battle of ideas is won out in the open.

In short, the more opportunities we give the Left to vent their true sympathies, like Michael Moore did on 9/11, the more repulsive they appear to most Americans. That's a positive step for truth, one in whose way we shouldn't want to stand.


Liberals and Democrats everywhere must have been grinding their molars into dust during the second half of Meet the Press yesterday. Tim Russert was interviewing Bono who several times praised President Bush for what he's done in Africa to help rescue that continent from its misery. At one point he said that because of what Bush has done in the fight against AIDs 125,000 Africans are now on HIV medication. These people, Bono said, owed their lives to America and George Bush.

This, of course, does not mesh smoothly with the Leftist meme that Bush equals Hitler. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are reported to be meeting at this very moment to discuss how they can re-educate Mr. Bono on current political exigencies and assist him in avoiding such unacceptable lapses of judgment in the future.

Poor People's Party of Hope

Which political party today is doing the most to deny hope to poor people around the world? Which political ideology, liberalism or conservatism, is resisting efforts to raise poor people out of their misery? Hint: It's not the party that claims to care about the poor.

Charles Krauthammer writes that the Democrats have become the party of liberal reactionaries. Devoid of ideas, their only talent, like the guy in the Capital One commercials on tv, is to come up with ever more novel ways of saying "no" to change. This is especially ironic and pathetic, as Krauthammer explains, when it comes to aiding the poor in Central America:

What has happened to the Democrats over the past few decades is best captured by the phrase (coined by Kevin Phillips) "reactionary liberalism." Spent of new ideas, they have but one remaining idea: to hang on to the status quo at all costs.

This is true across the board. On Social Security, which is facing an impending demographic and fiscal crisis, they have put absolutely nothing on the table. On presidential appointments -- first, judges and now ambassador to the United Nations -- they resort to the classic weapon of southern obstructionism: the filibuster. And on foreign policy, they have nothing to say on the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq or the burgeoning Arab Spring (except the refrain: "Guantanamo").

A quarter-century ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted how it was the Republicans who had become a party of ideas, while the Democrats' philosophical foundation was "deeply eroded." But even Moynihan would be surprised by the bankruptcy in the Democrats' current intellectual account.

Take trade and Central America. The status quo there is widespread poverty. The Bush administration has proposed doing something about it -- a free-trade agreement encompassing five Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic.

It's a no-brainer. If we have learned anything from the past 25 years in China, India, Chile and other centers of amazing economic growth, it is that open markets and free trade are the keys to pulling millions, indeed hundreds of millions, of people out of poverty. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a chance to do the same for desperately poor near-neighbors.

You would think this treaty would be a natural for Democrats, who have always portrayed themselves as the party with real sympathy for the poor -- in contradistinction to Republicans, who have hearts of stone if they have any at all. The Democratic Party has always seen itself as the tribune of the oppressed of the Third World and as deeply distressed by the fact that "the United States by far is the stingiest nation in the world for development assistance or foreign aid," to quote Jimmy Carter, former Democratic president, current Democratic saint.

You would think, therefore, that Democrats would be for CAFTA. Not so. CAFTA is in great jeopardy because Democrats have turned against it. Whereas a decade ago under President Bill Clinton, 102 House Democrats supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, that number for CAFTA is down to 10 or less. In a closed-door meeting this month, reports Jonathan Weisman of The Post, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put heavy-handed pressure on all congressional Democrats to observe party discipline in killing the treaty.

Arguing free trade is particularly tiresome because it is the only proposition in politics that is mathematically provable. It was proved by British economist David Ricardo in 1817 that even if one country is more efficient in producing two items, trade between two countries based on the relative efficiency of production is always beneficial to both countries.

Mathematics does not change, but calculations of political expediency do. After all, it was the Democrats who, when Central America was aflame in the 1980s, argued strenuously against Ronald Reagan's muscular approach of supporting the government of El Salvador and the anti-communist revolutionaries in Nicaragua. Democrats voted time and again against Reagan's policy because, they claimed, it ignored the root causes of the widespread discontent in Central America, namely poverty and hunger.

Their alternative? Economic help, not guns. In 1983, when Reagan made a speech asking for support for El Salvador's embattled government, Sen. Chris Dodd delivered a nationally televised response on behalf of the Democratic Party in which he called Reagan's policy a failure and demanded instead that we deal with the underlying economic and social conditions: "We must restore America's role as a source of hope and a force for progress in Central America. . . . We must hear the cry for bread, and schools, work and opportunity that comes from campesinos everywhere in this hemisphere."

There is no better way to bring bread, work and opportunity to the campesinos of Central America than with markets and free trade. To his credit, Dodd supports CAFTA, which represents precisely the kind of deployment of soft power that he advocated on behalf of his party 22 years ago. Today, however, his party has overwhelmingly abandoned his -- and its own professed -- ideals.

Eighty percent of goods from these countries are already entering the United States duty-free, so CAFTA would have a minimal impact on the United States. It would, however, have a dramatic impact on these six neighbor countries -- countries that Democrats used to care about. Or so they said.

Pelosi-type Democrats only care about the poor, it seems, when their "concern" can be employed to political advantage. When it comes to actually doing something to help the destitute when it's not to their political benefit to do so, they're evidently unwilling to elevate people's needs above politics. They yearn so achingly for Bush's presidency to fail that they'll gladly sacrifice Central America's poverty stricken masses to the cause.

They're not only a party bankrupt of ideas, they're a party bankrupt of virtue.

<i>Raich</i> and <i>Kelo</i>

Dispatches From the Culture Wars says this about the Supreme Court's egregious Kelo decision:

The notion of limited government took another enormous body blow today with the Supreme Court's astonishingly wrongheaded decision in the Kelo case. It was 5-4, with the 4 most conservative justices - Rehnquist, Scalia, O'Connor and Thomas - dissenting. There is grand irony here. Despite the common perception that liberals are for the "little guy" and conservatives are for "big business", the liberal judges on the court just upheld the government's power to take away someone's property and give it to private development companies solely because the private developers will use it in ways that will boost the tax base, while the conservatives on the court offered a blistering and absolutely accurate dissent. What this means, essentially, is that you don't really own your home and property. You only own it until someone else can convince the government that they can put it to better use, at which point they can take it from you and give it to someone else. It's difficult to imagine a more flagrant violation of our founding principles than that.

Is it overstating it to say that the entire experiment in limited government that we began 216 years ago with the passage of the Constitution may well have come to an end in the last few weeks with the double whammy of the Raich and Kelo decisions? If "interstate commerce" can be abstracted to give the government authority over activities that are neither interstate nor commerce, and if "public use" can be abstracted to cover private use, I dare say we have passed through Alice's mirror into a Wonderland where words can mean whatever the Queen wants them to mean at any given time.

Our Constitution is being progressively dismantled by the highest court in the land. The only realistic hope to salvage it is to get a couple or three more jurists on the court who believe that their mission is to discern what the framers intended when they wrote that document and rule accordingly.

We've had forty years of Justices who simply fly by the seat of their judicial pants, and they must now be put into the minority. Creating a conservative court is the main domestic reason many people voted for George Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry, and if the Republican party fails in this task, it will take at least a generation to recover from the disaffection it'll provoke among its rank and file.