Flag burning, the Senate and the "values of the American people"

As Frist cues "Gay Marriage II," why don't the Democrats refuse to play along?

Published June 26, 2006 3:03PM (EDT)

At least three more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq over the weekend, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will spend much of this week pushing for a constitutional amendment against the burning of the American flag.

In this latest distraction -- call it "Gay Marriage II" -- Frist will once again be helping his embattled brethren troll for "red" votes. He'll also be doing the bidding of men like Daniel Wheeler, the executive director of the American Legion and the president of the Citizens Flag Alliance. As the Wall Street Journal explains today, Wheeler "says he has never seen a flag on fire" but considers the flag-burning amendment "crucial because it 'reflects the values of the American people.'"

Here in the reality-based community, we tend to deal more with things we have seen. And as we sit back to watch the Senate debate a constitutional amendment over flag burning, we wonder how some of the things we've seen "reflect the values of the American people." We're thinking here about places like New Orleans and Guantánamo; we're thinking about families struggling to make it on a federal minimum wage that hasn't been increased in nearly a decade; we're thinking about more than 50,000 dead Iraqis, more than 2,500 dead Americans, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of both who will spend their lives suffering from the devastating injuries of war.

How does any of that "reflect the values of the American people"? And what, exactly, has Bill Frist done about it?

One can imagine some alternative political universe, one in which Senate Democrats say they're simply not going to play along with election-year distractions like flag burning or gay marriage until the Republicans deal in a serious way with the question of Iraq. You want votes on your silly, pandering constitutional amendments? Fine, go have your votes and lose them. You can't get to two-thirds without us, and you can't very well call us heathens or America haters for voting no on your amendments when we're not voting at all. We'll be out here on the Capitol steps, ready to come back inside whenever you decide that it's finally time to get serious.

Like we say, though, that's an alternative universe. In the one where we live, the flag-burning amendment is still likely to lose, but it's going to get something like 66 votes. That means that at least 12 Democrats aren't just playing along with the Republicans' game. They're actually playing on their team. Maybe that reflects Daniel Wheeler's values, but what does it say about theirs?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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