Thursday, July 06, 2006

No More Mickey Mouse Flag Amendments, Please!

When did the term "Mickey Mouse," referring to something petty, ticky-tacky or rinky-dink, come into popular usage? As I recall from reading old comic strips and watching the old cartoons, Mickey Mouse was a plucky little guy who did pretty well using his native intelligence and tenacity. (He did OK with the chicks, too. That Minnie is quite a babe. And any mouse who can own a dog is OK in my book.) Anyway, I don't know where the term came from, but its current usage describes well how I feel about yet another ploy to get everyone's mind off the illegal war in Iraq.

Like other Americans I'm unhappy when I see our flag desecrated, but when it happens, it's usually in other countries, outside of our control. Even when it happens in the U.S. it's pretty rare. As most observers have noted, it's not like there is an epidemic of flag-burning going on in this country.

So why the movement for an amendment to protect the flag? Politics, of course, which is what I see in all of this sort of talk, playing to a conservative base in an election year. Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is usually in the middle of it, but even his junior partner, Senator Robert Bennett, also Republican of Utah, wouldn't vote for the recently defeated senate bill.

But then, Hatch is running for reelection, and Bennett isn't. What was strange to me was that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, definitely no conservative, helped Hatch co-sponsor. Actually, it'd be odd until you realize that Hatch and Senator Ted Kennedy are good friends, and an odder couple it's hard to imagine. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised he can find some support even amongst the most liberal senators.

I'm an Army veteran, I've pledged allegiance, I've saluted the flag, accepted it with my mother when it was presented by the honor guard who did a ceremony at my dad's burial. I have my personal feelings for our flag. But I also believe that the right to free speech and the right to demonstrate trumps the feelings even the most jingoist Americans have for the flag.

Like my question on the term "Mickey Mouse", when did burning something, a flag, a draft card--a bra?!--get to be a symbol of disapproval and rejection? Why not just cut these objects into pieces with scissors? I guess it looks pretty good for the cameras to have something burning. Don't bring cameras and the demonstration usually burns itself out, literally.

Along with the flag amendment is the rightwing drumbeat of disdain for critics of the war and failed policies of the Bush administration. I don't like fire-breathing, snorting conservatives, or any group for that matter, trying to define to me what makes a citizen patriotic. When a group wraps itself in a flag I become suspicious of its intent. It's been the Bush administration's go-to strategy: When someone questions their decision making, call into question their patriotism.

Is it patriotic to lie us into a war that has killed thousands of Americans and many times more Iraqis? Is it patriotic to give tax breaks to the richest among us and take it from the poorest? Is it patriotic to give contracts to giant companies using no-bid procedures, who are overcharging us taxpayers to the tune of billions?

I don't think so, and draping a flag in front of those lies to try to hide them just makes them all the worse, a really cynical trick. If they're hoping to dupe the public, at times this administration has done a really good job. Well, they have to be good at something, and if lies and obfuscations were gold bricks we'd all be rich.

Despite the rightwing definition of the term "patriotic," here's what I think a patriotic American is. (But then, why be so provincial? It could be true of any citizen of any country. We aren't the only country on earth with patriotic citizens.) A patriot is someone who goes to work every day and does an honest day's work. He doesn't try to rip people off. He raises his kids to be good citizens. He has faith in his government that they will be there to protect him in times of need, but he keeps another eye out to make sure they're doing their jobs correctly. A really patriotic citizen doesn't just assume that because someone says they are working for him that they really are.

It's the right, the duty, of a patriotic citizen to hold all elected officials to their word, and their feet to the fire. It's the duty of a citizen to ask questions, to keep checking on those elected officials to make sure they are doing their jobs, and if they aren't, it's the job of a citizen to vote them out and put someone else in.

All of these are patriotic acts, the very minimum expected of a citizen. Whether or not you have a flag decal in the rear window of your car, or fly the flag over your house on the 4th of July, you have more duties in this country than to protect a piece of cloth, even an iconic piece of cloth like the American flag.

After all, the American flag has flown over some pretty awful and awesome places. It was raised at Iwo Jima and it was planted on the moon. It doesn't need protecting; we need protecting from those of us trying to sell us on a flag-burning amendment.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Addendum: The latest New Yorker just came in. The cover reminds me of the immediate post-9/11 days when people were sticking little flags on their lawn. Turn those flags over and they said, "Made In China," a country we had serious problems with 40 years ago. Now we let them make the symbols of our national identity. Stuff changes...

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