Posted: June 28, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

If the Fourth of July is a week away, it must be time to vote about flag burning.

The U.S. Senate was right on schedule to make political hay while patriotism shined, voting Tuesday on a "Flag Protection Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution. The drumbeat that went with it was the sound of candidate chest-thumping.

The roll call was one short of the 67 votes needed to approve constitutional amendments by a super-majority of two-thirds of the 100 senators. U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, the state's two Democratic members, voted no.

The Senate action came a year after the Congress' last pre-Independence Day rally-'round-the-flag. The U.S. House of Representatives voted June 22, 2005, on the flag-burning amendment with U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican, voting yes.

As surely as fireworks follow parades, press releases come after congressional votes. Carper will be on the ballot this November, and Jan C. Ting, the law professor who is the Republicans' endorsed candidate, has made flag burning a central issue in the race.

In a rapid-response press release, Ting promised, "I will provide the 67th vote in the U.S. Senate."

Ting has worked painstakingly to drag the flag into his campaign. He declared his candidacy two weeks ago on Flag Day and provided little Old Glories for his supporters to wave. In addition to the colorful visual it provided, perhaps it was a way to fan away the noxious remnants of rumors that Ting burned a flag as a college student protesting the Vietnam War, although there is no evidence that he did.

No matter how worked up the rhetoric is, however, flag burning appears to be a yawner of an issue here in Delaware. As a House member, Carper voted against the amendment in 1990 and was re-elected with 66 percent of the vote. Biden voted no on three occasions in 1990, 1995 and 2000 without paying a price at the polls.

Furthermore, there hardly has been a rash of flag burning to rile up the voters. Even Cindy Sheehan seems more inclined to wrap herself in one  than to burn one. Recent news accounts have pointed out that flag-burning bans are the refuge of only a handful of international scoundrels -- like Iran, Cuba, China and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Carper dusted off his patriotic credentials as a Vietnam-era Navy veteran before asking, what is the point?

"I don't recall a time in my life when there was a greater reverence for the American flag than there is today in our country," he said. "I probably love our flag more today than I have in all the years I've lived on this earth. But as much as I love our flag, I love our Constitution even more."

Not that reverence for the flag guarantees much. George Washington Plunkitt, that symbol of American graft and famous political philosopher who said, "I seen my opportunities, and I took 'em," also "seen" what the flag could do a century ago for Tammany Hall, his political headquarters in New York City.

"Did you ever see Tammany Hall decorated for a celebration? It's just a mass of flags. They even take down the window shades and put flags in place of them. There's flags everywhere except on the floors," Plunkitt said.

"We don't care for expense where the American flag is concerned, especially after we have won an election."