Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Flag Desecrator in Chief

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Sorry to be such a spoiler on Independence Day, but I feel it my patriotic duty to report that the President of the United States attempted to desecrate Old Glory today. Some of you will probably think that there are more significant issues facing America on the 230th anniversary of its independence than a polemic about national symbols, but when so great a man as Sen. Orrin Hatch declares that flag desecration is the most important question in America today, I listen and spring into action.

Here's what happened: after addressing the troops at Fort Bragg, NC in his trademark monosyllables, President Bush retired to the mess hall for a spot of lunch (fried chicken according to press reports), whereupon several of America's finest men and women in uniform presented him with a birthday cake decorated with the stars and stripes. The soldiers had already defaced the flag by placing some candles upon it which the President blew out, but what Mr. Bush did next is nothing less than an attempt by the Commander in Chief to deface that star-spangled banner. CBS News reports the President as exclaiming, "Give me a knife and I'll cut it! Anybody want a piece?"

If the constitutional amendment to empower Congress to ban defacing the flag had indeed passed, and the Congress had enacted laws pursuant to this power to criminalize flag-defacing, the President's behaviour today would constitute an attempt to deface the flag. The law of attempt is not codified in federal criminal law as it is in most state penal codes, but it is a well-settled legal principle that an actor must (1) take a significant step towards the commission of a crime; and (2) have the purpose or intent to commit the wrongful act in order to be convicted of an attempt. President Bush clearly meets both requirements for the successful prosecution of an attempt, as his solicitation of a knife by which to cut the cake is a substantial step in the commission of the crime, and his words clearly indicate an intent to cut up the flag-motif cake, if only he had a knife.

President Bush will surely argue that his words were taken out of context, and that he meant no harm. Such a defence would be disingenuous, however, for President Bush has long advocated judges limiting their deliberations to the "plain meaning" of legal texts, rather than interpreting the Constitution and other laws in light of modern conditions.

(Now do you see why liberals should get behind the flag-desecration amendment?)

Happy Fourth of July, folks!

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