Amendment is the wrong move
Jun 21, 2006 | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I want to make sure this column is seen for what it is -- my opinion. Not that of anyone else or even that of the newspaper. Often, those lines are blurred when it comes to editorial columns. When Mary Ann and I speak for the newspaper, we do so in an editorial. Columnists -- whether local or syndicated -- speak for themselves. Sometimes, we agree. Often, we don't.

But my support for Sen. Mitch McConnell's long battle against a "flag burning amendment" is my very own.

McConnell has waged a successful 20-year battle to reject repeated attempts to approve such an amendment in the U.S. Senate. That unpopular but principled stand is one of many reasons why I believe Mitch McConnell is a statesman, head and shoulders above most of the political hacks that populate the Congress.

The Senate will take up the flag burning amendment again next week and the vote is expected to be extremely close. The House has already passed its version of the legislation.

As the Republican Senate Majority Whip, McConnell is the party's front man. He is in charge of counting votes and of seeing that Republicans support partisan causes and partisan legislation. He has a reputation for being very good at both and some believe he will be the next Senate Majority Leader, one of the most powerful positions in the federal government -- indeed the world.

But McConnell is butting heads with the vast majority of Republicans in Congress and a majority of Americans who believe that a constitutional amendment is needed to protect Old Glory from those who would burn it, spit on it or desecrate it as a means of protest.

It is one of the reasons why I support Mitch McConnell in spite of the fact that his stance on many issues is to the right of my own beliefs. And it reminds me that speaking truth in the face of overwhelming public disapproval is the real test of leadership.

I believe in the United States of America, and I believe the flag of the United States is a proper and potent symbol of all that is good about our country. I believe that good men and women have served and died and will continue to serve and die so that we can enjoy the freedoms the flag represents.

But I also believe the flag is a representation and a symbol. It is not freedom.

Freedom is built into our constitution and especially into the first ten amendments to the constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Those amendments spell out our freedoms as Americans, and this is not a buffet table where we get to choose which amendments we support and which we don't.

I support the First Amendment and I am -- because of my job as a newspaperman -- critically concerned about its future. But I also support the second amendment which allows Americans to own firearms, and the third and the fourth and the fifth.

The freedom of speech -- the ability to say and act in ways that may outrage our fellow Americans -- is a keystone for all the other freedoms that we enjoy. It allows us to disagree, to protest and to rage at policies we do not support. Amending the constitution to outlaw a specific act of defiance is a real step down a long road of giving up freedoms which are precious to us and critical to the future of our democracy.

Is this a real issue? When was the last time you saw a flag burned in anger? Politicians in Washington have a keen sense of hot-button issues that divide us and herd us into easy-to-define categories. We should beware of such blatant demagoguery, and McConnell's defiance of such tactics makes mockery of their accusations that this is an issue of patriotism.

In the late 1950s, John Kennedy wrote a book titled "Profiles in Courage." The book highlights instances of U.S. congressmen who put their core beliefs before their own political agendas. Most were critized, then defeated at the polls because of their unpopular stands.

Mitch McConnell will not lose his leadership position in the U.S. Senate or his support in the Commonwealth of Kentucky because of his stand on the flag issue. But there may be many who do not understand why this Republican leader...this conservative with unquestioned credentials...would vote against an amendment that would outlaw the desecration of the flag.

He does so out of principle, out of a love of freedom and an understanding of our constitution and out of a fearless commitment to the very freedoms that the flag represents.

I think he is right.

(Bob Hendrickson is publisher of the Ledger Independent in Maysville, Kentucky.)
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