Third Party & Independents Archives

June 11, 2004

Freedom of Speech Under Fire

Message sent to the following recipients:
Senator Hutchison, Senator Cornyn,

I strongly urge you to vote against S.J. 4, a proposed constitutional
amendment that would give Congress the power to restrict the use of the
flag as a means of free expression.

I am an honorably discharged Viet Nam era Army veteran and I believe that
amending the Bill of Rights to censor unpopular speech dishonors the flag
and the freedoms that it represents. Doing so to convey symbolic
patriotism - especially during a time of war - is contrary to the American
spirit and freedom of speech which veterans of this nation died and were
maimed to protect.

Americans are working across the globe in the name of democratic rights,
so it is all the more important that we distinguish ourselves from
countries that fear political dissent - like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which
was one of only a handful of nations that outlawed flag desecration.

Moreover, even though Americans now have the unfettered right to desecrate
the U.S. flag as a means of political speech, the pro-amendment Citizens
Flag Alliance Inc.
could only come up with 122 incidents of flag
desecration between 1989 and 2003 - only 34 of which, at most, could be
considered acts of political expression. Therefore, it is only extremely
rare incidents of political speech that constitute what amendment
proponents cast as a dire need to restrict our constitutional right to
free speech. It is akin to removing the heart from a living body in order
to correct a murmur.

Indeed, the limited number of such acts prompted then-General Colin Powell
to write in opposition to the flag amendment in 1999: "The First Amendment
exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to
that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find
outrageous. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a
few miscreants."

At a time when the notion of patriotism is being bandied about for
political gain, I urge you to stand up for the American way with hardened
resolve: reject faux flag protection, in the name of freedom.

[Editor's Note: parts of this letter were borrowed from a form letter.]

Posted by David R. Remer at June 11, 2004 06:43 AM
Comment #16345

Bushism spoken at FBI headquarters on February 14, 2003, “For years, the freedom of our people were really never in doubt.”

Posted by: bayviking at June 11, 2004 12:38 PM
Comment #16386

John Kerry said if he “saw somebody burning the flag, I’d punch them in the mouth because I love the flag.”

But then he goes on to say that he supports the right to burn the flag as a means of political expression. Would that be a Kerryism? Trying to have it both ways.

I can just picture it. “I support your right to do that.” WHACK. “And there’s more where that came from if you exercise any of the other rights I support!”

And here’s another good Kerryism of late. What do you suppose his response was when asked if he thinks the investigation into the UN oil for food scandal should continue? His answer: “Yes and No.” What else could it have been? That’s vintage Kerry.

Posted by: Martin at June 12, 2004 12:17 AM
Comment #16387

A Kerry swearing-in would be hilarious. “Do I promise to defend the Constitution? Well, yes and no, and let me tell you why…”

Posted by: Martin at June 12, 2004 12:20 AM
Comment #16399

Let’s see, Kerry was 20 when he said he would punch someone out for burning the flag? I frankly don’t believe your quotes are even remotely current and would be interested in the source.

My skepticism comes from not believing any politician would make such a claim in a campaign nor during their political career. Kerry has not remained an incumbent for so long by being politically stupid.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 12, 2004 06:00 AM
Comment #16400

I don’t like the idea of someone burning or desecrating our flag. It smacks of a non-patriotic attitude, and I’d be angry about it.

But I don’t think it is an important enough issue or problem to require legislation. According to some, the use of the flag on a shirt, or a napkin, or a cup is an improper use. But on the 4th of July, I see representations of the flag in all kinds of places, and I like it.

We dont need to legislate every single issue of our lives. David pointed out only 100+ instances in over a decade—certainly not enough to require a constitutional amendment.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at June 12, 2004 06:04 AM
Comment #16401

David, Kerry was not 20 in November of 2003 when he threatened to punch anybody in the mouth who burned the flag.

Posted by: Martin at June 12, 2004 07:39 AM
Comment #16402

What is your source, Martin?

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 12, 2004 07:44 AM
Comment #16407

Wow! joe & I agree on something. :)

Besides, if desecrating the flag was illegal, Bush would have to stop signing those little ones that people wave at rallies.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 12, 2004 09:20 AM
Comment #16408

David, it’s a legit quote: Political Wire Quote of the Day for Nov 12, 2003

“If I saw someone burning the flag, I’d punch them in the mouth because I love the flag, but the Constitution that I fought for preserves the right of free expression.”

Kerry has a way of verbally throwing himself out on a limb and then reeling himself back.

Posted by: Stephen VanDyke at June 12, 2004 09:21 AM
Comment #16412

Let me tell you something. I have seen people waving flags all over the place in my Houston Area hometown. After 9/11, I saw many people riding around with their flag hooked onto their windows. A lot of business have big flags flying at all times.

Problem is, few of those people really respect that flag, even as they fly it. They will fly it in rain. They will fly it ragged (a fate that happened to far too many flags on cars) They will let it touch the ground. All of these, to a person familiar with the proper treatment of the flag, would constitute desecrating acts.

The waving of a flag sends a message. It’s neglect also sends a message. As does it’s destruction. What complicates things is that flags beyond repair are supposed to be burnt. One could imagine a particularly clever defendent putting the flag in a position of being damaged, and then saying to whoever prosecutes them that they were simply doing their duty to an already desecrated flag.

The flag is a symbol that when burned can express any number of sentiments. It can express anger at the government. It can express displeasure at foreign policy. It can express contempt for patriots who neglect the morality of their actions. Would I burn the flag? No, I am a fairly patriotic young man, and I feel it represents something that should be preserved.

But part of what is preserved is the ability to dissent from our government, and that flag represents that government. It also represents the freedom to speak, to say things to others the government may not be comfortable with.

In the end an anti-flag burning amendment, no matter how well intentioned, sets the precedence for the government to decide what is right for the people to say. If the government can decide that, it can ultimately, over time, decide whether people can say things about it that hurt it’s chances of staying in power.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 12, 2004 09:39 AM
Comment #16420

Stephen V.D., thank you for the quote. Martin, you are right, Kerry is quite inconsistent on this issue. And his words reflect a lack of integrity. Guess the Bush Lite references are more accurate than I thought. Just as Bush promised small government and fiscal responsibility to not pass our costs to future generations, Kerry will say one thing and admit he would do another.

Just reassures me that a vote for Nader is the only responsible one I can make.

Posted by: David R Remer at June 12, 2004 04:15 PM
Comment #16429

Think about it folks - Kerry’s quote does not conflict itself in any way. Nor does it suggest that Kerry ‘wants it both ways’.

Look, he said he would punch someone in the mouth if he saw them burning the flag … he didn’t say that he would make a law against it and then throw people in jail for it, like King Bush, if he had his way.

And then he goes on to say that he supports the Constitutional liberty of free expression … well, guess what - that liberty grants him the right to say that he would punch someone in the mouth! Seems simple enough to me.

Then again, I don’t trust John Kerry any more than I trust King Bush. Point of fact, I don’t trust anyone who are members of any notorious secret societies. One party, one vote, no choice.

Posted by: Will at June 12, 2004 10:27 PM
Comment #16451

American Pundit:

I have this calming effect on people. David Remer and I have found areas of agreement, and now you. Perhaps down the line, others will find areas of agreement with me.

I expect it due to my unique intelligence and my quick wit. Or perhaps my intriguing writing style. Or I suppose it could be that if I state enough opinions, I’m bound to find one here or there that everyone agrees with. Remember…even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at June 13, 2004 02:08 PM
Comment #16454

Yeah, I don’t see the contradiction in Kerry’s quote at all. It’s all a matter of priorities: For me & John Kerry, the Constitution is more important than our personal political opinions. Conversely, we also agree that we don’t need to pass laws and Constitutional Amendments to force the country to conform to each and every one of our personal opinions.

I really don’t see how anyone can consider his statements contradictory.


Posted by: Christopher Fahey at June 13, 2004 04:15 PM
Comment #16456

joebagodonuts, you are a funny guy! Thanks for the belly laugh. Who knows, you may even be able to get Bush and Kerry to divorce and enter a gay marriage together with your healing powers magic light of peace, harmony, and love. I thought I was the only one around here with beads and beard. :-)

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 13, 2004 04:54 PM
Comment #16458

CF, the word integrity means a persons beliefs and actions coincide with each other. A person without integrity says one thing and does another. Kerry is saying one thing and voting another regarding those who would use the flag as a form of speech in a manner he objects to. I am not saying a candidate need be a perfect human being, but, Kerry is pretty blatant about this particular chink in his integrity armor.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 13, 2004 04:58 PM
Comment #16460

If you can’t see a contradiction, it’s because you want to make excuses for Kerry. If Bush said that, we’d have all the front pages in the country blaring in unison about a “the chilling effect” on free expression. The ACLU would put it in every newsletter (why they keep sending them to me is anybody’s guess) and Barbara Streisand would go straight into orbit.

Could you imagine the outrcy if a moderate Republican said, “If a woman had an abortion, I’d support her right to do so, but I’d sure slap her one.” Or how about “I support equal rights for homosexuals, but if I saw a gay man, I’d punch him in the stomach.” Why’s it okay for Kerry to say things like that? Is it because he’s John Kerry and party loyalty demands turning a blind eye?

Posted by: Martin at June 13, 2004 05:08 PM
Comment #16461

Excellent examples, Martin. Proof positive that partisan myopia occurs on both sides of the third party column :-) !

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 13, 2004 05:50 PM
Comment #16473

I still don’t get you guys. I support the Klan’s right to march, I support Pat Boone’s right to sing insipid songs, I support Rush Limbaugh’s right to be a hypocrite, and I support Pat Robertson’s right to be a nut … but I’d like to punch every one of them! I don’t see the contradiction.

All John Kerry said was that he believes in free speech even though he doesn’t agree with what some people say. David, I am really shocked to see you missing the point on this one.

And Martin’s examples were hardly “excellent”. First, President Bush already supports the flag-burning amendment and is hardly well-known as a defender of free speech, so that point is moot, or at least too absurd to be applicable. The other two examples, abortion rights and gay rights, are excessive not least of all because they conjure up inflammatory images of battered women and gay-bashing (i.e., if someone said either of the things Martin suggested, it would be reasonable to assume that that person thought that beating women or gays was okay), while Kerry’s use of violent language was clearly intended as a figure of speech.

Moreover there is a logical problem with Martin’s examples. The examples boil down to simple hypocrisies because the imaginary speakers in each case seem to simply contradict themselves: “I support the legality of X, but I hate X.”. In Kerry’s case, however, we’re talking about support for the legality of an entire class of activity (speech itself) while objecting to a certain subset of that protected activity (flag burning). This sort of contradiction is the very core of what makes the First Amendment so wonderful and unique and utterly unlike the other civil rights Martin tried to liken it to.

David, do you think that Kerry secretly supports a flag-burning Amendment? Or do you think that he secretly loves flag burning but is unwilling to admit it publicly? Or do you think that he wants to send a message to those who would consider burning the flag that they should expect a knuckle sandwich from John Kerry?

I’ll admit that I do object to Kerry’s violent language, but I am fairly sure that he wouldn’t actually punch a guy for burning a flag. He’d be plenty mad, though, and that was his whole point: that you can be mad at someone for saying something, but you can defend their right to say what they are saying.


Posted by: Christopher Fahey at June 13, 2004 08:25 PM
Comment #16475

And Martin, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time. Why must you frame almost every one of your arguments with the accusation that your opponents are blindly and religiously following their party’s dogma? Can’t you argue based on the facts without having to drop incessant insults to your opponents, characterizing us as mindless robots or non-thinking parrots?

If you’re arguing with me about something, there is no need to bring up “the left”, “the Democratic Party”, or “Barbra Streisand”. You may feel like you’ve scored a few points by such rhetorical flourishes, but you really only distract from the real issues.


Posted by: Christopher Fahey at June 13, 2004 08:30 PM
Comment #16477

A complaint about framing discussions in terms uncomplementary to the other side might carry more weight if it didn’t come five minutes after a post in which you call those you disagree with politically “hypocrites” and “nuts.”

Posted by: Martin at June 13, 2004 09:27 PM
Comment #16486

By “opponents” I meant other WatchBloggers (like me!), not public figures. Feel free to insult Noam Chomsky and Barbra Streisand and the Democratic Party all you want!


Posted by: Christopher Fahey at June 14, 2004 12:03 AM
Comment #16492

Agreed then, Christopher. But scroll upwards and see that you singled me out for scolding when I hadn’t attacked or insulted any Watchbloggers. Unless Barbara Streisand, John Kerry or Michael Moore are here, I don’t understand your point.

Yes, I rail, shake my fist and wag my tongue against the left in general, but who doesn’t do that to the other side? I think you lefty Watchbloggers are great, and I’m confident that Joe, Eric, the others and I will have you all registered as Republicans by November. I’ve found you all to be enormously intelligent and gifted, and therefore I see no other path but your eventually casting a vote for Bush later this year. This should be a matter of great joy—not bitterness and dissention.

Posted by: Martin at June 14, 2004 01:19 AM
Comment #16497

Martin said: “I’m confident that Joe, Eric, the others and I will have you all registered as Republicans by November. I’ve found you all to be enormously intelligent and gifted, and therefore I see no other path but your eventually casting a vote for Bush later this year. This should be a matter of great joy—not bitterness and dissention.”

Talk about your Pat Robertsons! Martin, you cannot be serious. See, when I read this,I picture a scrawny fellow in a black rubber body suit with slicked-back hair and those geeky round eyeglasses going ‘Soon you fools will come crawling to the dark side … and my sinister plans will be complete! Muhahahhah! … Oh, and would you like to touch my monkey?’.

Sigh - without republicrats there would be no humor in the world. 8)

Posted by: Will at June 14, 2004 02:51 AM
Comment #16506

> I hadn’t attacked or insulted any Watchbloggers

My point was simply that you were implying that my opinion was merely based on repeating party mantra or some kind of inherited leftist dogma, rather than based on my own individual capacity for reason.

> I see no other path but your eventually casting
> a vote for Bush later this year

I am predicting the exact opposite, Martin! :)

By November, you will be as disgusted as I am with the Bush Administration and, like my lifelong Republican Texan grandfather and my in-laws who were Reagan and Bush Administration intelligence officials, you will cast your vote for John Kerry.

I’m glad you brought up the voting issue, too. I’ve recently wondered “what’s the point of our WatchBlog debating?” (I mean, besides the obvious self-serving pompousness of which we are all guilty). I can think of a few reasons why I do this:

1) It’s fun!
2) It’s informative.
3) It helps me shape my own opinions into coherent ideas and language.
4) It helps me understand my political opposition’s viewpoint so that I may:
4a) Know where I might be wrong about something.
4b) Know how to rebut their opinions when they are wrong.

But all of these reasons come down to this:

5) I want to have the rhetorical skills to be able to influence other people’s votes.

Since many of you are strangers to me, my first instinct is simply to use the knowledge and insight and skills gained here to influence friends and loved ones to vote against Bush — and to have the confidence in their opinions to encourage their friends and loved ones to do likewise.

But only now (thanks to you, Martin) has it occurred to me that perhaps I might also play a part in changing the votes of some of my fellow WatchBloggers.

The game is on!


Posted by: Christopher Fahey at June 14, 2004 09:48 AM
Comment #16514

One argument could be made this way: if you burn a flag which represents freedom of expression, then you are in turn REJECTING freedom of expression.

But then, the symbol of freedom of expression might also symbolize the right to reject said freedom of expression? Sort of like “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”, or something.

This is an interesting conundrum, like the one where the a particular person “always lies, no matter what he says” and then he turns around and says “I am lying”. Is he telling the truth about lying? Or lying about lying, and thus, telling the truth?

Don’t ponder this while consuming Cuervo.

Posted by: Ciggy at June 14, 2004 02:29 PM