Jonathan Alter has a compelling essay on the flag burning amendment under consideration – again – in the Senate (it’s already passed the House). I’m with him on this one being a litmus test:
The phrase “litmus test” is in bad odor for good reason: politicians should be judged on a variety of positions, not just one. But deep down, nearly every voter has at least one litmus test–an issue so personally important that a politician who fails the test is forever tainted, or at least excluded from consideration for the presidency.
I inherited my one litmus test from my father, Jim Alter, who flew 33 harrowing missions over Nazi Germany during World War II. My father is not just a veteran who by all odds should not have survived. He is a true patriot. His litmus test is the proposal to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning, which will come up for a vote next week in the U.S. Senate. For dad–and me–any member of Congress who supports amending the Bill of Rights for the first time in the history of this country for a nonproblem like flag burning is showing serious disrespect for our Constitution and for the values for which brave Americans gave their lives. Such disrespect is a much more serious threat than the random idiots who once every decade or so try (often unsuccessfully) to burn a flag.
I’ll go even further than that. Hell, I’ll go a lot further than that. If you’re the kind of person who supports a ban on flag burning, that fact alone is enough to brand you, in my view, as either a demagogue or someone weak-minded enough to be led by demagogues who play on your most shallow and childish emotional responses. Like the flag itself, the flag burning amendment is purely symbolic. And anyone who would throw away free speech rights for symbolic achievement has no business being in any political office in this country.