December 15, 2005
Last month, Justice Antonin Scalia was politely quizzed by Norman
Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc. editor in chief. The
event, held in Time Warner's New York headquarters, was supposedly
off the record, but so much of it has already been reported that
it will not hurt to add Scalia's views on flag burning. He explained
why it was constitutionally protected speech. It's a pity Hillary
Clinton was not there to hear him.
that this famously conservative member of the Supreme Court advanced
-- actually, reiterated -- was that while he may or may not approve
of flag burning, it was clear to him that it was a form of speech,
a way of making a political statement, and that the First Amendment
protected it. I could not agree more.
apparently, could not agree less. Along with Sen. Robert Bennett,
a Utah Republican, she has introduced a bill that would make flag
burning illegal. It is probably important to note that this is
not a proposed constitutional amendment, and it is written in
a cutesy way that does not explicitly outlaw all flag burnings
-- just those intended to ``intimidate any person or group of
persons.'' That's a distinction without a difference to your average
police officer. Not many cops belong to the ACLU.
Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia quotemeister -- need
a quote/do not tarry/call UVA and ask for Larry -- opines that
Clinton is readying herself for a presidential run by adjusting
her tint, toning down the blue and heightening the red. He fancies
that Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's incipient presidential campaign
is already pushing Clinton to the center. A New York Times
editorial reached a similar conclusion. It suggested she was ``pandering''
to the 70 percent of Americans who think outlawing flag burning
is a dandy idea.
so and maybe not. It's clear that Clinton is going to have to
modify her image if she's really serious about running for president.
(She is, by the way.) At the moment, key interest groups rate
her pretty much as they do the Senate's most recognizable liberal,
Ted Kennedy. What's more, she is the semiofficial banshee of right-wing
fantasies, the insidious wife of the sumptuously immoral Bill
and the pillow-talkie architect of that Bolshie health care plan
of some years back. Already, at least nine venomous books have
been done on her. I would not be surprised if even now, someone
at Fox News is working on a book about ``How Hillary Stole Christmas."
real Hillary Clinton may be someone unmentioned in those books.
``She is one of the most conservative friends I have,'' one of
her pals told me. Bear in mind I was talking to a Democrat, so
we are not talking Phyllis Schlafly here, but still Hillary Clinton
is hardly anyone's stereotype of a liberal. For one thing, she
is religious and not merely in a church-on-Sunday sort of way.
She relied on her faith in the darkest days of her husband's impeachment
and the revelations of his sexual shenanigans. This is a lady
also articulated a moderate, somewhat ruminative, position on
abortion. It is rueful, insistent on ``choice," but regretful
about abortion in general. The same holds for the war in Iraq.
Clinton voted to authorize it and she has yet to call for a pullout
of U.S. troops. If she is uncertain, hesitant -- not sure if a
withdrawal would do a lot more harm than good -- then I welcome
her to the club of Iraq agnostics.
and other examples, political observers discern political posturing.
Maybe they are right. Whatever the case, though, the flag bill
along with other examples of Clinton's willingness to court political
reactionaries raises disturbing questions of who, exactly, she
is. Consistency is not always to be admired in a politician, but
when a supposed liberal is one of only two senators to sponsor
a bill to restrict freedom of speech, then we are talking about
something basic. If this is a pander, it is in the worst possible
Amendment is where you simply do not go. It is sacred. It protects
our most cherished rights -- religion, speech, press and assembly
-- and while I sometimes turn viscerally angry when I see the
flag despoiled, my emotions are akin to what I feel when neo-Nazis
march. Repugnant or not, popular or not, it is all political speech.
Her sponsorship of the flag measure calls for reconsideration
all around -- either by Hillary Clinton and her support of the
flag bill or by liberals and their support of her.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group