DECAPITATION STRIKE A MATCH
Armed Prophet generally likes California Rep. David Dreier. He's a mild-mannered, level-headed conservative who hails from a liberal state (although a conservative district), and I agree with him on most issues. In the last two days, however, I confess he has me confused. On Tuesday he was one of only eleven Republicans to vote against a bill that calls for a constitutional amendment to allow the U.S. Congress to ban flag burning. Yes, again.
Full text of the bill:
The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
Unfortunately, it passed with the 60% majority it needed, and will be going to the U.S. Senate next.
Props go not just to Dreier on this, but to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, who will probably give John McCain a primary challenge next year. Dreier and Flake are the only two genuine conservatives to vote their senses on this bill, rather than their emotions or constituents' emotions; the other nine are pretty much all moderate to liberal Republicans who tend to vote with Democrats on most issues. The notable exception among them is Texas Republican Ron Paul. Paul is the kind of libertarian that non-libertarians roll their eyes at, so Armed Prophet is tempted to turn him loose sans props, but he did have the best quote in opposition to the bill, saying: "We're amending the Constitution for a non-crisis." (Hold that thought until the end, would you?)
What's to make of this bill? As a conservative, this is one of a very few issues where I have a hard time saying I can respect the arguments of my fellow right-wingers who disagree. Conservatives, who have proposed this amendment five times in the last eight years, are supposed to be defenders of liberty -- yet here is a notable blind spot. When I look at the long list of Democrats who supported it, I'd like to point out that according to their terms, this is political, not commercial speech, so the left-wingers who voted for this are similarly without an excuse. (Dennis Kucinich must be light-headed from his exclusive vegan diet.) But who needs an excuse when something is politically popular?
Flag burning, I hope I need not point out, is a stupid thing to do. Lest I be tagged as a Commie symp, let me point out -- scroll through the past few months of my archives and I defy you to find me saying something positive about the anti-war protesters. As political speech it's offensive and crude, but unlike, say, child pornography, it has a clear message (though not a constructive one) and surely wouldn't be ruled as falling on the wrong side of the "prurient interest" test. And it hasn't -- the conservative Supreme Court has held that flag-burning is legitimate speech. Which is exactly why the House wants to amend the Constitution.
But will it pass the Senate? Not this year, that much is probably safe to say. With Medicare likely taking up all the oxygen until the fall, chances are it will have to wait until January. Stay tuned.
So that's the good David Dreier. I commend him for a legitimately courageous stand -- not just an easy partisan jab that supporters would call "courageous." So what about the bad?
Right now the Continuity of Government Commission is proposing to the House Rules Committee -- which Dreier chairs -- an entirely different amendment, one that would provide for the appointment of House members in case of a devastating terrorist attack here in Washington, DC. (Does the clumsy header on this post make a little bit more sense now?)
Though the issue is obviously complicated, it can essentially be pared down to this: while governors can appoint senators in the case of vacancies, the constitution only allows for the election of House members. Right now, it takes an average of four months to call and execute a special election. Imagine that times 400, meanwhile the country tries to respond to a disaster worse than September 11.
TNR's Michelle Cottle wrote a much more thorough explanation of the amendment in the most recent Atlantic Monthly, and a convincing one at that. Problem is, the bill has very little chance of moving out of the Rules Committee, and is likely to be kicked down to a House-Senate joint panel that will mull other options.
On such an important matter, why? Cottle guesses it has something to do with fear of the government facing its own mortality, but USA Today quotes Dreier voicing a different objection -- a thoroughly conservative one -- that in another circumstance I would support. He said:
Beyond the time it would take to win approval, I disagree with fundamentally altering the intent of the founders. They created a true 'people's house' by requiring elections, and I don't want to change that.
Memo to Dreier: There won't be
a people's house if there isn't a contingency plan to ensure that it lives beyond such a catastrophe. You would think this is a matter of common sense.
The Rules Committee considered the matter today, Wednesday. Dreier, along with fellow House Committee Chairs James Sensenbrenner (Judiciary) and Bob Ney (Administration -- you may remember his House cafeteria "freedom fries" fiat), do have a plan, one that would call elections in just 21 days. Would that be enough? Armed Prophet is doubtful. I too share the concern that the Constitution should be left alone as much as possible. But recall that the House didn't wait three weeks to authorize President Bush to take action against al Qaeda in 2001. Would we really want to wait that long in a much worse situation? And would we want the Executive Branch acting without any oversight from Congress?
Ron Paul has it right -- you only want to amend the Constitution in the case of a crisis. On September 11, such a crisis was avoided only due to a routine flight delay, the proliferation of cell phones and the courage of a few, doomed passengers. It would be indeed foolish to avoid a tough decision on this matter, and hope that nothing happens that can't wait for the better part of a month.
If nothing else, Dreier is being consistent. But consistency isn't always the same thing as common sense.