Daines says flag is a symbol but burning it is not expression

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) at the roast of Green Goblin

Ours is a lively time for federal government. Just this morning, Republicans in the Senate released a health care bill they’ve been crafting for weeks. We’ve withdrawn from the Paris climate accords. According to the president, who is admittedly not a reliable source, the president is under investigation by special prosecutor. Now seems like a particularly thrilling moment to be a US senator. With a seat in that chamber, a person could shape history. In unrelated news, Sen. Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, has proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning.

On Flag Day, his office issued a press release touting his plan to “give Congress the authority to prohibit burning of the American flag.” It included approving reactions form the Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion on behalf of the Citizens Flag Alliance and, on the left, prominent American civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz the American Legion of Montana. Although the amendment looks like a slam dunk among Eisenhower-era social organizations, its reception in the press was more mixed. Here’s Jesse Chaney of the Helena Independent Record, on the campaign’s opinion about whether this isn’t the first restriction on free expression in American history:

Daines’ staff said the senator does not consider flag desecration to be a form of peaceful expression. They said his amendment would not limit anyone’s right to expression, but [would] distinguish flag desecration as conduct not protected by the Constitution. The senator’s staff noted that Congress already bans many other forms of conduct through criminal law.

I checked with a lawyer, and that last part is right: criminal law does ban many forms of conduct. But all expression is a form of conduct. It’s a subcategory. Daines’s argument is like saying, “That’s not a square; it’s a rhombus.” What distinguishes expression as a particular type of conduct is its symbolic meaning. Speaking aloud is conduct, but it is the symbolic content of the noise that we endeavor to keep free. And Sen. Daines himself calls the flag a symbol twice in the second paragraph of his press release. Quote:

The American flag has been a symbol of hope and freedom for centuries and ought to be respected. Our nation’s flag must be set apart as a protected symbol worthy of honor.

It’s almost like his argument has no underlying logical framework at all. Maybe it sounds better in the original Goblish. You can read many such cheap cracks and appeals to internal coherence in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

We will not be back tomorrow with Friday links. We will be driving to a wedding in Washington state, and the following week we’ll be in New York City with our girlfriend. There will be no Combat! blog from Monday, June 26th through Wednesday, July 5th, so that I can work on the goddamn novel and still have time to see the sights. Is this the longest vacation Combat! blog has taken in its nine-year tradition of existence? Yes it is. Will we all be okay? Probably. What am I, a futurologist?

FL senate brings nullification back; still no word on sexy

The federal government is a compact among the states! Woo!

Good news for the drunk ghost of John C. Calhoun: the state of Florida, previously known as the place that combines the hypersexual narcissism of California with the bugs of Nicaragua, is now also the new hot spot for nullification. You remember nullification, right? The 19th-century political theory that reserved for individual states the right to declare federal laws unconstitutional? Originally used to protest the so-called Tariff of Abominations of 1828 and 1832? Jesus, it’s like none of you is currently enrolled in sophomore history. It’s also like no one in the Florida state legislature is doing that, either, since the senate just proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would exempt Florida residents from the Affordable Health Care Act’s individual coverage mandate. Don’t worry; it passed. Props to Ben “Bang!” Gabriel for the link.

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Dennis Kucinich makes everyone sad, again

Yes. Yes she is.

Like a Keebler elf who knows cookies are really bad for you, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH, net worth $17,000) has once again made his party sad by telling the truth. The former presidential candidate and lifetime buzzkill pointed out yesterday that President Obama had authorized the use of military force in Libya without the approval of Congress and thus violated the constitution. “President Obama moved forward without Congress approving,” Kucinich told Raw Story. “He didn’t have Congressional authorization, he has gone against the Constitution, and that’s got to be said.” He has a point—although it is of course the same point he made about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars under George W. Bush, plus various interventions under Clinton. The President cannot order military attacks without the approval of Congress, except in cases of imminent threat to the United States. Recognizing along with the world community that Muammar Gaddafi is a dickhole is not imminent threat. For that reason, Kucinich said, ordering air strikes against Libya without congressional approval was an impeachable offense. Cue awkward silence throughout Democratic strategy conference call.

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Video captures happiest 4 minutes of Christine O’Donnell’s life

I assume that, by now, the numerical minority of you who did not send me links to Christine O’Donnell’s First Amendment gaffe yesterday have heard about it. In a debate with Chris Coons before, of all people, an audience of law students, the Delaware Senate candidate demanded to know “where in the Constitution” is the separation of church and state. After her opponent recited the establishment clause (pretty much from memory, although he missed a couple of words,) she remained incredulous, saying, “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?” Newspaper accounts were beautiful, but they miss what is perhaps the best part: the four or so minutes after O’Donnell sticks Coons with her “where in the Constitution?” question but before she realizes it’s a gaffe. During that time, she smirks at the crowd, mugs during her opponent’s answers and generally acts like she’s just checkmated Vladimir Nabokov. It’s an almost physically painful study in dramatic irony, and it captures the essence of Christine O’Donnell.

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Health care debate ends, but Tea Party is just beginning

"You hold the base of its spine in one hand, and then you put the other hand on top of its head so you can get that twisting motion. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to keep a firm grip. It's a baby; it's gonna squirm."

Foolishly, we here at Combat! blog assumed that the political climate of the United States would settle down a little bit after Sunday’s House vote on health care reform. On some level we’d rather not have to consciously acknowledge, we were even a little disappointed. The vicious political rochambeau that had so dominated the past year seemed finally at an end, and as heartening as that was, it also meant we’d have to turn our attention back to Miracle Whip commercials. How wrong we were. Finally freed of the pretense of opposing a specific bill, the anti-health care reform movement has assumed its true form as an unmoored cloud of hateful bullshit. Gone is the obligation to talk about actual health care policy. Gone is the pretense of bipartisan intent, and gone is the salutary need to anchor one’s statements to any element of the real world. What remains is the essence of the Tea Party right, scurrying out from the corpse of town hall democracy like those shadow things in Ghost. Now that it has been released from its host body, the soul of American politics can make statements like this:

If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they’d be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that! Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!

A congressman said that, which makes the hypothetical at the beginning kind of odd. You already have a country, asshole, and it sucks right now, largely because of you. The asshole in question is Steve King, as usual, but he’s not alone. Now that it no longer has to maintain the illusion that it’s talking about health care reform, reactionary populism has unsheathed the long knives.

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