Hillary Clinton and Flag-Burning
by Matt Stoller, Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 04:14:36 PM EST
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is supporting new legislation to criminalize desecration of the United States flag _ though she still opposes a constitutional ban on flag attacks.
Clinton, D-N.Y., has agreed to co-sponsor a measure by Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, which has been written in hopes of surviving any constitutional challenge following a 2003 Supreme Court ruling on the subject.
Her support of Bennett's bill follows her position in Congress last summer, when a constitutional ban on flag-burning was debated. Clinton said then she didn't support a constitutional ban, but did support federal legislation making it a crime to desecrate the flag.
In her public statements, she has compared the act of flag-burning to burning a cross, which can be considered a violation of federal civil rights law.
Flag burning is a stupid. We should wash the flag in protest, not burn it. But this embrace of symbolic reactionary politics is just bad news. There are red state Democrats who courageously vote against the flag burning Amendment even though it hurts them at home, and we have to take this sponsorship of something like this from a Senator from New York? That's just irresponsible politics, putting courageous partisan Democrats in jeopardy for 'optical' reasoning (ie. so you'll look better to suburban Moms in the exurbs). But whatever, not the biggest deal in the world, just a bit of of silly pandering. There might even be some interesting Senate negotiations to head off something worse, I really have no idea.
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.
I am no fan of those who seek to ban flag burning, for a variety of reasons. I kind of get the political calculus, even from a blue stater running for President (Clark did the same thing). But really, must we seriously have to have a Democratic nominee who compares the actions of hippies in the 1960s with the actions of the KKK?
Now, to be sure, it's late, and the Clinton Senate office isn't open. So I'm going to say that it's possible Newsday (update: sorry it's the AP, not Newsday), which is a credible publication, misinterpretted what Hillary Clinton said or meant. I'll call tomorrow and hopefully be able to get some clarification on this.