November 12, 2003

contemplation/desecration

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at November 12, 2003 5:28 PM Wesley Clark is in favor of a Consitutional amendment outlawing flag "desecration". (Joe Conason on the subject.)

I firmly believe that Clark's stated position on this issue is the wrong one. The question I'm asking myself is how much I should care. The proposed amendment has something in common with "under God" in the Pledge: in principle it's an affront to the liberties America is supposed to stand for, but in practice it doesn't really matter. Implausible slippery-slope scenarios aside, a flag-burning ban would have a negligible effect on our ability to criticize the government. It may be a completely unjustifiable restriction of free speech, but in terms of actual damage to the country it's not remotely comparable to, say, trillions of dollars in budget deficits, or millions of Americans without health care, or the disaster in Iraq.

On the other hand, if Clark really believes a flag-burning ban should be enacted, we can infer that he doesn't completely understand the importance of free speech, and this could matter a lot more. There's no way of knowing whether he actually believes what he's saying or if he's just pandering to pick up a few votes, but it's a bit of a catch-22; in principle, we don't like politicians who pander either. (In practice they all pander, and given that we want a politician whose pandering is predominantly on the harmless issues like this one.)

Ultimately, I can't figure out how much I should care about this. In terms of deciding my vote in the primary, though, "principle" issues like this are clearly second-order at most (to slide into mathematical terminology), with the big issues like Iraq being first order and themselves dwarfed by the big zero-order question: which candidate is most likely to beat Bush? (I'm still not convinced Bush is at all beatable, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it our best shot.) Tags:
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Drop me a note with a layman's explanation of the 0, 1, 2 order thing. I might want to use it in a book. And I certainly want to use it to make myself look smarter in cocktail conversation.

Posted by: Jeremiah Spur | November 13, 2003 9:16 AM
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