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.

Leave a Reply

*

4 comments

  1. MoonDog

    January 21, 2008 12:49 PM

    Bill:

    You better get used to it. No presidential candidate in their right mind would run for office without at least claiming to be Christian. You’d never get elected if you didn’t. Perhaps in your lifetime you’ll see a woman or a black, but non-Christian – forget it.

    Remember, this country was founded by Christians, and their ancestors, and their ancestors….

    With regard to the gay marriage question you raised, I personally don’t have a problem with it, and you know I’m a Christian and conservative. However, to suggest that they’ve been banished from a state is off-base. It’s called majority rules. This is a democracy, meaning that roughly 49% of the people are going to be pissed off about something all the time. Do states not have a right to enact laws based on a majority vote? Of course they do. That’s the separation of federal and state governments working as it should. You wouldn’t want a law passed in Tennessee to be enforced in Michigan, would you?

    I’ve been a young man, I understand your passion. Keep blogging and you never know what may transpire.

  2. Bill Baer

    January 21, 2008 02:02 PM

    A good amount of our founding fathers were skeptical of religion.

    Even if it’s majority rules, they’ve still been banished just for being themselves. It’d be equally as unfair if 51% of the state voted to make Christianity illegal (it’s unconstitutional but play along here). We shouldn’t legislate taste on ideologies.

    I would want a law passed in the U.S. to be applicable to the entire country. I’m talking about most of the “big” issues, not about stuff like tax appropriations or highway maintenance stuff.

  3. MoonDog

    January 21, 2008 02:46 PM

    That’s the difference between federal and state government. The laws you used as examples are federal issues and should apply to the whole country. I understand the point, but states have the right to enact legislation regardless if it fails the separation of church and state question. I for one wouldn’t approve for such legislation because I’m a fervent supporter of separation of church and state.

    I get pissed off every time political issues are addressed at church – that’s NOT the place to debate it. I may be Christian, but I don’t like being lumped into the “fanatical right wing” category because that’s not me.

    Good topic and I’m hopeful more people will chime in on this.

  4. CJ

    January 23, 2008 12:48 PM

    It’s interesting that you make a point about how symbols are overhyped, as I think the movement for state-sanction gay marriage is disproportionately symbolic. This leaves me open for an all-out nuclear assault, but I’ve had a good life, so…

    First, I’m not religious and don’t “oppose gay marriage.” I understand that homosexuals are just like me, except for their orientation, which is biological. At the same time, lost in this “debate,” is the whole point of state-sanctioned marriages. (The issue isn’t gay marriage per se, since a growing number of churches will acknowledge the union. The issue is state recognition.) The only reason the state gave a crap about people getting married was because 1. children would be created, and the state had a vested interest in who would care for them, and 2. women were dependent on men for nearly everything. The state needed to know what man was carry for what woman.

    By definition, #1 doesn’t apply to homosexuals (I know, some hetero couples can’t have kids, and gays adopt, but the point stands) and while #2 applies much less to women in modern times, it seems to matter even less to gay couples. The financial benefits (governmental and private sector) were rooted in the recognition that a woman may be home raising children. It’s hard to get worked up over the need for Steve the lawyer to receive partner benefits so Richard, the web designer, can stay home and care for the poodle.

    Obviously, for partners to be actual partners and live together, legal arrangements though civil unions are necessary. But “marriage”? Society needs state-sanctioned heterosexual marriage. The cold fact is it doesn’t really need gay marriage, for practical purposes. But the symbolism – eliminating dual standards – is strong. Again, I don’t “oppose gay marriage” but I can’t shake the feeling that, since there is little need, it’s mostly symbolic.

    As for those crafty white male Christians…it’s safe to say that few belong to an actual White Male Christian Advancement League. Few think collectively, and even fewer give thought to preserving their dominance. To whatever extent they do think as a group, they hardly invented the concept of wanting to preserve and expand their power. The Democratic primary right now is a pretty good (as in bad) example of raw identity group competition. Plus, colleges are now 60%-40% female, with the gap probably growing. Whites will be a minority by 2040. So, the “white male” dominance will continue to decline. I suspect that, hand-ringing over the religious right aside, Americans are becoming less religious too.

    It’s really not at all surprising that white male Christians dominated politics for so long, since they dominated the feeder groups of politics: business, law, etc. But, for those keeping score, it’s changing.

Next ArticleThe Ryan Howard Situation