Blog/counterblog: Hillary & flag-burning

News & Politics

Remember the quaint old days when flag-burning was so outrageous as a rights violation liberals would quiver with indignation? A Bush, a Patriot Act, and some enemy combatants later, outrage over criminalizing flag-burning feels like outrage at the exposure of a bare knee in a Hollywood movie.

I'm sort of kidding of course. Banning flag-burning is an important first amendment issue. It's just, you know, expectations have shifted.

The news that Hillary Clinton is signing on to legislation that "outlaws a protester intimidating any person by burning the flag, lighting someone else's flag, or desecrating the flag on federal property."

Matt Stoller opposes her stance while conceding that "[It's] not the biggest deal in the world, just a bit of of silly pandering."

But he makes a good point about Clinton's framing of the issue:

"The deeply disturbing piece here is the awful comparison of flag burning to cross burning. Cross burning is well-understood as a sign of terrorism. It was used to suppress blacks organizing themselves in both the South and the North from the post-Civil War era until the late 1960s. It was a sign of intimidation, of terrorism, or impending hate crimes. It was often a death threat. Flag burning has usually been the province of hippies and countercultural movements, and these have been relatively benign. They are certainly not equivalent in any way shape or form to the KKK or the legacy of slavery and segregation that cross burning represents."
The Carpetbagger argues that what's actually going on here is a compromise. While the act is being criminalized, it's not the constitutional amendment that conservative Republicans are pushing for. He writes:
"First, it's federal legislation, not a constitutional amendment. Second, I'm fine with protecting others' flags, since destruction of private property is illegal anyway. I'm not quite sure how they'd enforce flag damage that "promotes violence," but since this whole mess is about crass political exploitation anyway, I'm happy to let Judiciary Committee lawyers hash it out."
What's more, Senate Republicans don't like the bill, so it's basically an easy thing for Senate Dems to sign onto with impunity. It may be cynical, but it's hard to blame a Dem planning a presidential run for pursuing this approach.
(MyDD / Carpetbagger)

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