On Flags and Speech

I finally got around to catching the re-run of Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher. An excellent quartet — comedian D.L. Hughley, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, country music star Trace Adkins, and pundit Dan Savage — joined Maher for a round-table discussion of politics. One of the subjects that piqued my interest in particular was of the Confederate flag being flown in South Carolina and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s cloaked support for it. Not surprisingly, the three liberals at the table were against it, and Adkins, the conservative, seemed indifferent about it.

I loved a couple of the points that were made in the discussion: that the American flag itself stands for blotches in this nation’s history, and that white Christian males always have and always will try to keep the balance of power tipped in the favor of white Christian males.

Anyone who has been following current events lately knows what little the American flag stands for, if anything, these days. Get a calendar from each year 2000-2008, and point to a random date, and you can probably find this country doing something wrong. In 10 years or so, we will look at our operation in Iraq as angrily as we, or at least I, look at the C.I.A.-backed, Milton Friedman and Chicago School of Economics-led military junta of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. I needn’t cite the USA PATRIOT Act or the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (which, in effect, made Habeas Corpus moot), or Guantanamo Bay, or Walter Reed, or waterboarding (which the U.S. condemned the Japanese for using in WWII), or Halliburton, or the lawless private military company Blackwater, or… you get the point. The American flag, if it supposedly stood for something like freedom, no longer stands for anything good.

And the second point also doesn’t need clarification. There’s a reason why atheists are the least-trusted minority in the U.S. and why we’ve never had a non-white, non-male, non-Christian President. Power has yet to change hands in this country’s history and as long as we keep producing white male Christian politicians, it will stay this way. And no, this is not a thumbs-up to Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama in subterfuge. Look at all of the names we’ve had run for President just in recent history. 95% of them are white Christian males. It’s amazing that we have not only a woman, not only an African-American, but a Mormon running for President, too. Too bad all of them are beholden to lobbyists of big business.

But my main point is the concern Americans seem to have about symbols. George Carlin did an hilarious bit on this during one of his HBO stand-up specials, saying that he leaves symbols to the “symbol-minded.” We know that the Confederacy fought for the right to oppress African-Americans in the Civil War and that the Confederate flag represents that oppression, but seriously, what harm will a flag do and if there is any harm, how does it warrant infringing on others’ right to free speech?

If it was a Christian symbol on a government building, I could see the offense because that is explicitly outlawed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But this is a flag being flown in a state that was part of the Confederacy. If that’s what they want to do, so be it. Ask them to take it down politely and if they decline, move on.

And on the topic of “states’ rights,” a favorite phrase of libertarians: what’s the point? Let’s take the issue of gay marriage, for instance. It’ll obviously become legal in the liberal states and banned in the conservative states. So, homosexuals who want to get married in, say, Texas, will be forced to move to other states if they want to be legally bound to their partner. In other words, they’ll be forced to give up their residence, their job, friends and neighbors, and perhaps family, all because they happen to live in a part of the country that is highly close-minded towards anyone who isn’t heterosexual.

Is that freedom — banishing someone to another part of the country for having a quality that isn’t viewed favorably by most people?

This idea of states’ rights will also end up dividing the country exponentially deeper than it currently is now between conservatives and liberals. Just have a country-wide policy on these issues. That’s why it’s called the United States of America, right? It’s not the “Some States do one thing and other states do another” America.

And, finally, libertarianism lends credence to ideas that may not deserve such credence. The idea that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to get married does not deserve one ounce of respect from anyone, yet libertarians would like to give these people power potential. If you don’t like gay people, fine, that’s your prerogative. You have no right to tell them that they cannot be legally bound to their partners as heterosexuals are, and it doesn’t matter if 99 out of 100 people feel this way.

Here’s the clip of Maher’s show. Hopefully something exciting happens in the world of baseball so I can put up a decent sports-related post.