One would think members of Congress might have more pressing things to do -- the war in Iraq, for instance, could stand the government's undivided attention -- but the Senate is set once again to take up an amendment to the Constitution that would ban the desecration of the U.S. flag. The last time this legislation went to the Senate, it received 63 votes, four short of the 67 it needed to pass on to the states for approval. But there are more Republicans in the Senate this time around, and Orrin Hatch is gunning for a fight.
The amendment made it through the House earlier this week by a vote of 286-130. One of its strongest advocates there was Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the San Diego area congressman who has come under suspicion for corruption. Josh Marshall has been all over the allegations against Cunningham -- that he scratched the back of defense contractor Mitchell Wade in exchange for Wade's help paying for the congressman's living arrangements, including a yacht and a home that Wade allegedly purchased from "Duke" for well over market value.
The flag burning amendment must have been a nice distraction for Cunningham. He spoke in favor of the amendment on the House floor and, like a certain senior advisor to the president, wrapped himself in memories of 9/11. "Ask the men and women who stood on top of the [World] Trade Center," Cunningham said. "Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment."
Is there a better encapsulation of the Tom Delay wing of the Republican Party? Faced with allegations of rank corruption, puff yourself up with empty patriotic gestures and try to change the subject. Flag-burning is not a pressing issue in this country. Providing our troops with adequate armor in Iraq and health care when they return -- or, say, rebuilding Iraq so that it won't collapse when U.S. troops leave -- these are the issues that Cunningham and his colleagues might profitably spend some time addressing.