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People Like You

06.28.2005 | POLITICS

Probably you are not smart enough to be reading this essay. A safe bet says your lips are moving. Doubtless you are a pessimist, quite possibly a liberal, certainly a glass-half-empty type. You are the sort who dwells on the bad: noting that the insurgency in Iraq shows few signs of abating, that the economy shows only dim signs of recovering; that the price oil is now over $60; that the people who control the world's oil appear to hate us. You take no note of the good news. And here is the good news: the gruesome epidemic of flag burning that has ravaged the United States is now in its final phase.

The House of Representatives has once again given its approval to a proposed Constitutional amendment that would outlaw desecration of the American flag. In the past such measures have been defeated in the Senate, but now that the Senate is under the enlightened leadership of a medical doctor--I am not speaking of Howard Dean--the bill has an excellent chance of passage. Should the Senate approve it, the bill will then be sent to the state legislatures. Assuming these fine bodies also validate it, our long national nightmare will come to a close.

People like you, who I shall refer to as members of the "reality based" community, may be wondering where this flag burning epidemic I speak of is taking place. You may be thinking to yourself that almost no one in the United States burns American flags, that in fact most burning of American flags happens in places like the Middle East, where our laws carry little weight (and where, in any event, if we were allowed to pass one law that everyone would obey, there would probably be more useful offerings than ordinances against attacking our flag. Ordinances against attacking our people, you might argue, would rank higher.)

It is so like you to think that. The problem with reality is that it is taken entirely too seriously. Your obsession with the fact that the flag burners do not exist tells us more about you than about the flag burning amendment. You are not a person who thinks outside the box. Essential truths escape you. People in management programs read books that disparage people like you. Books that liberally use words like "leverage" and "interface." Books that have the author's picture on the cover. Books that sell well in airports. That's how bad things are for you right now.

What you fail to grasp is this: the constitutional amendment against flag burning is important precisely because flag burning is not a problem. If we cannot solve problems that do not exist there is little hope that problems that do exist can ever be remedied. But that is not all. Sometimes the only way to solve a problem is to create it, and sometimes the only way to create a problem is to solve it. No doubt you cannot fathom what I am saying, so I will give an example. A few years ago the leadership of the United States was determined to solve the problem of a rogue Middle Eastern state that had dangerous nuclear weapons and posed a threat to Americans. I am not speaking of Pakistan. We disarmed this nation due to our superior military prowess and love of liberty, and also because as it turns out this nation had not really been armed in the first place. But since then this nation has managed to arm itself, and is now causing no end of problems. Indeed it is a legitimate threat to Americans. In solving our problem we created it, and only because we created it can we now insist it has been solved. When there was no violence Iraq was an imminent threat. Now that it is drenched in violence we can say with confidence that the threat is over, that it is in its "final throes," that the bombings and the assassinations are just prelude to the liberty and the democracy and the what have you.

The same calculus applies to the flag burners, who hate us for our freedoms. Except the freedom to burn the flag, which they seem rather fond of. For this reason we need a law that will remove the bad freedom in the name of all the good freedoms. We will reveal the problem none of us knew we had. Prohibiting flag burning will trigger a round of flag burning. We will be able to see who the flag burners are, to identify the latent flag burners in our midst, to "smoke them out." I am not trying to make a pun. Removing the freedom to burn the flag will also help our foreign policy. If Americans cannot burn their own flag we will be more likely to have a stable Middle East. Many repressive Middle Eastern nations also prohibit flag burning. When Saddam Hussein ran Iraq, flag burning was illegal there. If we pass a law for our people similar to a law Hussein had for his people, we will create cultural "bridges" between ourselves and the Iraqis. We will be able interface with them more effectively, and better leverage our advantages. The Iraqis will see that the "new boss" shares some traits of the "old boss." This will comfort them. It will reassure them. They will not do things like get depressed, or get discouraged, or organize themselves into eerily effective guerilla warriors who build improvised explosive devices and lay siege to entire cities. I don't expect someone like you to understand my reasoning.

Lastly the flag burning amendment will also be a sign of our toughness and resilience. It will make us distinctive. It will make the United States less similar to pansy countries like France, and England, and Japan, and other places characterized by weak attributes like "prosperity" and "the rule of law."

The flag burning amendment has been introduced to the Congress by one Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California. Mr. Cunningham is a war hero and fine legislator, and a good friend of Mitchell Wade. Mr. Wade is fabulously wealthy and a successful businessperson, so long as the business is not real estate speculation, at which he appears to be perfectly awful.

Mr. Wade runs a defense contracting firm called MZM, which gets large amounts of government money. Mr. Cunningham is a ranking member on the committee that dispenses those large amounts of money to Mr. Wade. All of this is entirely innocent. Last year Mr. Cunningham sold Mr. Wade a house in California, which Mr. Wade purchased for $1.7 million. Mr. Wade never lived in this house. Shortly after purchasing the house he sold it for a loss of $700,000, which in the middle of a housing bubble is an intriguing accomplishment. Cynics and communists--groups with whom I'm sure you sympathize--have interpreted this chain of events as evidence of corruption. They have also pointed out that while in Washington Mr. Cunningham lives on Mr. Wade's fabulous yacht, which Mr. Wade seems to have named after Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham's staff has insisted that he pays "market rate" for his stay on the yacht, and has produced documents showing that he has paid $357 a month in upkeep on the boat. Your inevitable objection that $357 might not be market rent for a yacht on the Potomac tells us only that you are against the troops and happy that 9/11 happened.

Mr. Cunningham, who sees connections between events that you cannot hope to see, and who as a result will doubtless be awarded prestigious grants and fellowships while you stew in jealousy and self-loathing, understands that the flag burning amendment is really about 9/11. He tells those of you who doubt the wisdom of a flag burning amendment to "go ask the 9/11 firefighters" if they want a flag burning amendment. This is a completely reasonable suggestion, as it is well known that most of the 9/11 firefighters are experts in constitutional law. It is also well known that it was the absence of a flag burning law--rather than the absence of airport security, border security, adequate emergency response funding, and/or a competent intelligence apparatus--that let the terrorists knock over the World Trade Center and win the day. What I am trying to say is this: had the flag burning amendment been in place in 2001, certainly the September catastrophe would have been prevented.

I close this essay hoping that you have been persuaded but fearing you have not. This, again, tells us more about you than about me. My clarity is impeccable, my logic faultless. My mind is like a razor, my pants hang perfectly off my 32 inch waist. Most people would agree I am better looking than you. You are recognizable at a distance by your poor fashion sense, and by the clouds of rationality that constantly encircle you. You hopelessly wander the intellectual terrain of "reality," you insist on "evidence," you cling to antiquated notions about how it costs lives and money to simultaneously fight two wars. Your utility to our great republic is limited. It is time for you to do the honorable thing. It is time for you to be silent. I say so not out of malice but patriotism. In a great nation built on freedom we can only afford to speak with one voice.

About the Author
Michael Manville's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications. He lives in Los Angeles.
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