Thursday, March 09, 2006

Senator Bill Frist: Flag Defender or Cynical Tool?

“Every morning we open the Senate by reciting, as we just did a few moments ago, the Pledge of Allegiance. Hand over heart, we pay solemn tribute to the American flag, that sacred symbol of America's history, values, and principles.”

With those stirring words, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist opened another day of Congressional business earlier this week and used it as a springboard to announce a bold plan to meet one of the major problems confronting our nation.

Did he plan to address a needless war that’s cost us $250 billion, left 2,300 military dead, thousands others maimed and our standing in the world trashed? How about the fact that our vaunted “war on terror” still has not turned up Osama bin Laden or kept al Qaeda from continuing to operate in 60 countries? Or was he going to tackle the reality that over 45 million Americans have no health care whatsoever?


What Bill Frist rose to speak of was that thing that concerned Americans sit around their dinner tables wringing their hands over every night: Desecration of the American flag.

“We are reminded that we are but servants, momentary players in the great unfolding of the American story,” said Frist, as I’m sure even people on his side of the aisle started dosing off. “The flag -- transcendent, noble, still -- commands our humility and binds us in the common project of serving the body politic.”

And here comes the money line: “It is with this understanding that, before Congress adjourns for the Fourth of July recess, I intend to bring the flag protection amendment to the floor.”

Wow, I’m sure glad he’s jumping all over that. I was afraid he was going to spend his time on something trivial, like George W. Bush wanting to turn over the security of our major ports to a country with well-defined links to September 11.

Of course, cynic that I am, I can’t help but notice that he’s going to drag this onto the national stage just in time for the mid-term elections, in which Republican candidates are in more trouble than Paris Hilton prepping for a MENSA test. And, hey, wait just a minute… Didn’t Frist announce about a month ago that he’s also going to drag that tired, old Marriage Protection Amendment out of mothballs this summer?

But, maybe Frist truly does have his eye on the issues of greatest importance in our country. Why, just today, as I walked through Midtown Manhattan after work, I must have seen 20 or 30 instances of people burning American flags on street corners. I bet you saw the same thing in your town. And I'd wager a month's pay that, at tonight's dinner hour, the average family won’t be talking about their day, the squeezed household budget, the lack of affordable health care or the budget deficit we’re passing on to our kids – they’ll be worried sick about Bill and Jim getting married in Massachusetts.

Or it could just be that Frist is trying to augment the heightened terror alerts we’re sure to see as November gets closer with some mindless wedge issues to distract the dumbest elements of our society – even though he knows damn good and well he doesn’t have the 67 votes to pass a constitutional amendment on either dim-witted issue.

Back on the Senate floor, Frist talked about what somebody burning the flag really means.

“In my view, desecrating the flag is not speech but an act of physical assault,” he intoned grimly. “We know this when we see rioting mobs in foreign countries setting our flag on fire. We can see clearly that they are engaged in a specific act of physical aggression against our country and everything for which we stand.”

Of course, the last person to take a kick at this can was a guy in the House of Representatives named Randy “Duke” Cunningham and he’s about to start doing eight years of hard time in the state penitentiary for the crime of being an average Republican.

We can only hope the same karma holds true for Frist as well.