TV & Radio
The New York Times
December 7, 2005
Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode
Hillary Clinton is co-sponsoring a bill to criminalize the burning of the American flag. Her supporters would characterize this as an attempt to find a middle way between those who believe that flag-burning is constitutionally protected free speech and those who want to ban it, even if it takes a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, it looks to us more like a simple attempt to have it both ways.
Senator Clinton says she opposes a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag-burning. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that flag-burning was protected by the First Amendment. But her bill, which is sponsored by Senator Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah, is clearly intended to put the issue back before the current, more conservative, Supreme Court in hopes of getting a turnaround.
It's hard to see this as anything but pandering - there certainly isn't any urgent need to resolve the issue. Flag-burning hasn't been in fashion since college students used slide rules in math class and went to pay phones at the student union to call their friends. Even then, it was a rarity that certainly never put the nation's security in peril.
The bill attempts to equate flag-burning with cross-burning, which the Supreme Court, in a sensible and carefully considered 2003 decision, said could be prosecuted under certain circumstances as a violation of civil rights law. It's a ridiculous comparison. Burning a cross is a unique act because of its inextricable connection to the Ku Klux Klan and to anti-black violence and intimidation. A black American who wakes up to see a cross burning on the front lawn has every right to feel personally, and physically, threatened. Flag-burning has no such history. It has, in fact, no history of being directed against any target but the government.
Mrs. Clinton says her current position grew out of conversations with veterans groups in New York, and there's no question that many veterans - and, indeed, most Americans - feel deeply offended by the sight of protesters burning the flag. (These days, that sight mainly comes from videos of the Vietnam War era; the senator's staff did not have any immediate examples of actual New York flag-burnings in the recent past.) But the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect expressions of political opinion that a majority of Americans find disturbing or unacceptable. As a lawyer, the senator presumably already knows that.
December 9, 2005
Senator Clinton's Flag Maneuver (5 Letters)
To the Editor:
Re "Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode" (editorial, Dec. 7):
Hillary Rodham Clinton panders by supporting a bill that would criminalize flag-burning because, sadly, that's what many Democratic politicians think that they must do to win independent and Republican votes. But they will never be as good at it as Republicans, who have mastered the art of creating solutions to problems that don't exist.
We Democrats ache for leaders who will speak forcefully to real issues, like the war and lack of affordable health care. It's no wonder most Americans cannot identify what the Democratic Party stands for when so many of its leaders act like Republican wannabes.
James A. Webster
Galena, Ill., Dec. 7, 2005
To the Editor:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in supporting a flag law while opposing a flag amendment, is playing to both sides with this middle-of-the-road approach.
The direction traveled should be that of the majority of Americans, who believe that protecting the flag is right and proper and that the only means to this end is through a constitutional amendment.
The First Amendment also sets out the right of the people to redress their government for grievances. For many, the decision of the Supreme Court that flag-burning is protected is inherently flawed.
A bipartisan majority in the House has seven times approved a constitutional amendment to protect the flag. A bipartisan majority in the Senate now supports the same action. But it is the transpartisan efforts in the 50 United States that have given impetus to the issue.
Democrats, Republicans and others have pushed aside partisan, narrow interests in state legislatures to formally and unanimously generate the call for such an amendment.
Senator Clinton should be party to this.
Thomas L. Bock
National Cmdr., American Legion
Indianapolis, Dec. 7, 2005
To the Editor:
Those of us who remain proud of the liberal tradition arising out of the civil rights movement and the striving for peace through the enhancement of human rights principles do not expect the kind of pandering from the Democratic Party that the Bush administration provides the far right of the Republican Party.
Still, neither Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton nor any other potential Democratic presidential candidate can expect to tap the enthusiasm and energy of liberal idealism by continuing to manifest embarrassment over the liberal label.
The times require a courageous candidate, not one who expects our vote by default.
Daniel C. Hudson
Ridgefield, Conn., Dec. 7, 2005
To the Editor:
I think that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is right and sincere in her efforts to criminalize flag-burning in the United States. Although flag-burning isn't a widely practiced form of protest anymore, there are endless other ways to exercise the First Amendment.
At this time, the world doesn't need to see Americans burning their own flag. Something as symbolic as a flag-burning would only fuel anti-American sentiment.
The First Amendment gives the right to free speech, not flag-burning.
Vernon, N.J., Dec. 7, 2005
To the Editor:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is a serious contender for her party's presidential nomination in 2008. Everything she says and does until that contest plays out will be colored by her aspiration to occupy the Oval Office.
She will learn, as many before her have, that being all things to all people is a losing strategy, because her opponents will sense the obvious insincerity and her supporters will feel frustrated.
As you imply, better not to pander.
Cincinnati, Dec. 7, 2005