People in the U.S. Congress are not all that squirrelly one on one, but get them all together in one spot and something happens that's hard to explain.
It has something to do with politics. All of them are politicians, so they've learned not to take colleagues too seriously. Since they have only 2-year terms, they're running all the time, so every one of them can spot a political move at 40 paces.
They vote together, most often because they wish they had come up with that pretty stupid but pretty popular bill or amendment. Thought has flown from the hall.
The recently passed bill to ban flag-burning is one of those squirrelly things. Probably thought they could get away with it this time, since Saturday's Flag Day. The bill got through with far too few people actually thinking about what it would do to - or open the door to harm's way for - a lot of other freedoms. It would be funny if it weren't so serious in its consequences.
The last flag that was burned in this country, or the last one that anybody got excited about, happened 30 to 40 years ago. Apparently, there are people in Congress who still are back there, still mad about the way people exercised their freedoms then. When it was done, it was a last resort and a tactic used basically to get Congress' attention. Has it taken this long? And, with the ban, how did Congress completely miss the point?
Those old flags were burned because they no longer symbolized what the country stood for, at least in the minds of those with the matches. It was a country where people of a certain color couldn't go to school where they wanted, where they couldn't vote, where people could be ordered to fight for something they didn't agree with, and where only certain people had access to and could expect a response from government. Burning the symbol of all that was the only recourse. It worked, too.
We've recently been through a patriotic binge, flags on everything from poles to detergent boxes to diapers to doggie bags. These flags - more marketing than respect - are wearing thin now, many of them faded red, white and blue strings flapping from car antennas. This isn't all that different from burning a flag, but maybe Congress can separate the two. Besides, the only way to dispose of a flag properly is to burn it, so how will that be handled?
Flag-waving over the past three years comes from bravado in the face of terrorism, from the general confusion and where-do-we-go-from-here fears about the turn of a century, and from the latest in what seems to be a developing trend - wars and rumors of wars.
On all three counts, we have egg on our faces.
We think waving the flag will frighten away the terrorists, but we haven't been willing to give nor spend the money it will take to get local, state and national emergency systems in place to meet the terrorism threat in any meaningful way. Where's the Congress?
It is always a comfort during times of change to hark back to the good ol' days. We're doing that now as we face the uncertainties of the 21st Century - everything from trying to cope with a global economy to a national attitude that no longer includes caring.
The good ol' days were never that good, even if flag-waving would bring them back, which it won't. Besides, it's very dangerous, not to mention slightly unhinged, to love the symbol of something more than the real thing.
Now, we're looking at the Iraqi War in a new light. What was all this flag-waving for? It may end up being the result of a spin put on intelligence reports about chemical and biological weapons that could be loosed in 45 minutes. We haven't found them, and it looks less and less like we will. Waving the flag in support of such an unprecedented invasion (we've never done it without first being provoked) would seem to be a misuse of the flag. Maybe Congress thinks that if we can't burn the flag, we also can't wave it in support of spin? Why not do away with the spin instead?
A thorough report on how Saddam Hussein was treating people there would have justified much of what we did, but that wouldn't have been a flag-draped bandwagon. Is that what Americans have to have to do what's right? Is that a proper use of the symbol of the country? And should we be satisfied with the flag symbolizing such shenanigans? That's not what the troops were fighting for, and if anyone thinks they were, that's spin, too.
The flag-burning bill keeps popping up. In the past we've depended on the less emotional Senate to curb the nonsense of the Congress. Maybe they will do that again with this bill, but its getting harder to feel that good about the Senate's ability to think things through. It is time to quit quibbling about what people want to do with the flag and concentrate on making a country everybody can be proud to wave a flag over. People don't burn flags when they think the country's on the right track.
Congress needs to be vigilant about taking away reasons to burn the flag and leave the freedom to do it alone. If anyone goes to jail for burning a flag, the Constitution becomes meaningless. And that's not something to wave a flag over.