Flag fight was about politics, not patriotism

Thirty years ago this past April, Chicago Cubs center outfielder Rick Monday saw two protesters kneeling on the grass in left-center field at Dodger Stadium. When Monday realized what they were doing – trying to set fire to the American flag – he dashed over and snatched it away.

The moment was caught by photographer James Roarke and is now an iconic image – of baseball and America. It was a brave action that will always be a beautiful moment in our history: A baseball player saves the flag from desecration. Monday is America’s kind of hero – acting alone, saving the day.

In contrast, members of Congress acted like simple political opportunists by once again proposing a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, which the Supreme Court has twice upheld as an expression of free speech. It was not heroic to bring up this previously, and endlessly, debated topic – especially during a congressional election year, when conservatives are looking for a cause to rally their base.

The Senate deserves no praise for defeating this measure, which the House had earlier passed. It never should have been entertained in the first place. It should never be brought up again. It has been decided. The Bill of Rights can breathe a sigh of relief and perhaps Congress can get on with real, pressing matters.

As rational people point out, over and over, we have no epidemic of flag burning, or flag desecration of any kind, going on in this country.

Politicians know a popular issue when they see one. However, they apparently did not see Gallup polls show a drop in public support for amending the Constitution to protect the flag, from 71 percent in 1989 (the year the Supreme Court first ruled on it) to 55 percent last year. Nor did Congress listen to opposition to the proposal from former Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, Veterans for Peace and Veterans for Common Sense.

Opponents, not for the first time, pointed out that such an amendment would be the first time the Constitution has been used to restrict the Bill of Rights. That would begin the dismantling of our rights, the ones our flag represents.

As it turns out, Rick Monday favors the amendment. Which is his right. But his singular action to save that flag 30 years ago illustrates the lasting power of one person’s patriotism and pride and the effect it can have on fellow citizens, so much more than any law or decree.

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