Ronald Reagan Hated Big Government Like a Rat Hates Cheese, Part 4: The War on Drugs

Perhaps the two most important social issues for the majority of libertarians are the War on Drugs and strict gun control, both of which they (rightfully, in my opinion) oppose. It is thus worth noting that Reagan was extremely un-libertarian on the War on Drugs. (We’ll get to gun control in one of the later posts in this series.) In a publication for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that has received funding from the Koch brothers, Gene Healy sums it up thusly: “President Nixon popularized the phrase ‘the war on drugs,’ but Reagan was the first chief executive who really took that metaphor seriously.” On October 14, 1982, the man who had declared that government was not the solution to the problem announced that the government needed to enforce drug prohibition for the sake of national security. Not only did Reagan strongly favor drug prohibition, he also believed that imprisonment as opposed to merely treatment was necessary. Nor did he limit his authoritarian stance to so-called “hard drugs.” When the National Academy of Sciences concluded that marijuana should be decriminalized–a proposal that had been previously endorsed by some members of his own party, such as Jacob Javits and Edward Brooke–Reagan balked at the idea. He signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This legislation established mandatory minimum sentences for both possessing and selling drugs. For example, possessing one kilo of heroin or five kilos of cocaine carried a minimum penalty of ten years in prison.

In an article for The Atlantic, journalist Eric Schlosser explained that, “The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act marked a profound shift not only in America’s drug-control policy but also in the workings of its criminal-justice system. The bill greatly increased the penalties for federal drug offenses. More important, it established mandatory-minimum sentences, transferring power from federal judges to prosecutors. The mandatory minimums were based not on an individual’s role in a crime but on the quantity of drugs involved. Judges in such cases could no longer reduce a prison term out of mercy or compassion. Prosecutors were given the authority to decide whether a mandatory-minimum sentence applied.” Additionally, “A public-health approach to drug control was replaced by an emphasis on law enforcement. Drug abuse was no longer considered a form of illness; all drug use was deemed immoral, and punishing drug offenders was thought to be more important than getting them off drugs.” And while the bill included laudable efforts to ban the sale of drugs to minors, the term “minor” was implausibly defined as 21 and under the same way it was with Reagan’s alcohol legislation. All of this played a key role in the federal prison population increasing nearly eight-fold between 1980 and 2014. Schlosser and other writers, such as Randall Kennedy, have pointed out that many liberal Democrats voted for the legislation, complete with the infamous “crack vs powder” discrepancy that has tacitly favored white drug users over black drug users. Nonetheless, in the House of Representatives, fifteen of the sixteen Congress members to vote against the bill were liberal Democrats, including John Lewis and Barney Frank. Thus, most of the Representatives to take libertarian or semi-libertarian stances on the Drug War were from the Left. In 2000, Joseph McNamara, a Harlem beat cop-turned police chief of first Kansas City, Missouri and then San Jose, California, reflected on Reagan and the War on Drugs. McNamara had crusaded admirably against racism, police brutality, and the War on Drugs, and he speculated that Reagan might have come around to a more libertarian stance on narcotics. Of course, this is theoretically possible, just as it is theoretically possible that Tip O’Neill would have become an advocate for abolishing all public assistance programs. But while I do not want to in any way detract from the great work that McNamara did, there is simply little or nothing in Reagan’s record to indicate that he would have ever soured toward the War on Drugs. On this issue, as with many others, the Gipper found the might of the State to be superior to free choice.

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Ronald Reagan Hated Big Government Like a Rat Hates Cheese, Part 3: Raising the Drinking Age

Like many conservatives, Reagan had a relationship with America’s mainstream universities that might be described as rocky at best. (And like many conservatives, Reagan had a rather warm relationship with Bob Jones University, but that’s another story.) It is thus fitting that Reagan played a key role in creating a major headache for university presidents all over the country by helping raise the drinking age. Historically, the drinking age had been decided at the state level and often fluctuated. During the 1970s, many states lowered their drinking ages to 18. This coincided with the lowering of the voting age to 18 and reflected the position that a person old enough to fight in the military was old enough to make any other adult decisions. Unsurprisingly, some Americans considered this shift toward more libertarian policies to be a public safety hazard. New Jersey was one of the key states to take the pro-raising the drinking age position. The state’s Republican Governor Thomas Kean would take liberal and libertarian positions on a number of social issues  before, during, and after his governorship, including racial justice, teacher-led prayer in public schools, immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, and restitution for survivors of Japanese American internment. But on issues such as gambling, the War on Drugs, and drinking, he supported nanny-state policies, including a ban drinking for people under 21. In a speech to New Jersey high school students in 1984, Reagan declared that drunk driving was “a national tragedy involving transit across state borders,” and one of a few “special cases in which overwhelming need can be dealt with by prudent and limited Federal action.”

That year, with Reagan’s support, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The law stipulated that any state which allowed residents under the age of 21 to buy or publicly possess alcohol would automatically forfeit ten percent of federal highway funds. Reagan signed the bill on July 17. While few would dispute that drunk driving was and is a problem, banning drinking by adults ages 18 to 2o seems counterintuitive. Firstly, it represents a flagrant restriction on individual freedom of choice for people who legally bear all responsibilities of adulthood up to and including the ability to be tried as an adult and executed. ( I do not support the death penalty, but it remains in place, and people under 21 are eligible for it.) Secondly, it stands to reason that a person willing to break the law by driving drunk would have no compunctions about purchasing alcohol illegally. Thirdly, drunk driving was and is hardly limited to 18-to-20 year olds–as demonstrated by the fact that Reagan’s own Vice President’s oldest son went drunk driving at age 30. In essence, Reagan viewed 18-to-20 year olds as old enough to be forced to register for the draft. But they were too young to use beer to drown their sorrows at the loss of civil liberties.

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Ronald Reagan Hated Big Government Like a Rat Hates Cheese, Part 2: Conscription

In the 1960s and 1970s, controversy over the military draft created some strange bedfellows. Much of the radical left, with Noam Chomsky being a notable exception, opposed the draft, as did a significant number of liberal Democrats, liberal Republicans, and conservative Republicans. On the other hand, plenty of liberal Democrats, liberal Republicans, and conservative Republicans, along with most conservative Democrats, favored it. Both anti-draft leftists and conservatives often argued that forcing people into the military was a violation of their civil liberties. Those who opposed both the draft and the Vietnam War tended to believe that conscription was allowing the government to continue to wage an immoral war. Those who favored the draft but opposed the war often believed that an all-volunteer military would be more efficient and might actually weaken anti-war protests. Indeed, to this day, proposed bills in the House of Representatives to shut down Selective Service are generally cosponsored by a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. For a time, Reagan seemed to align with the pro- war, anti-draft faction. During his time as Governor of California, he supported ending the draft, though in 1969, activist Karl Hess criticized him for including the caveat that the draft should continue until the Vietnam War ended. There was, however, an ominous harbinger of Reagan’s future stance on this issue. In 1970, the then-governor responded to efforts to reinstate Muhammad Ali’s boxing license by stating, “Forget it. That draft-dodger will never fight in my state.” This was an odd statement, not only due to Reagan’s stated opposition to the draft but also due to the fact that he had no problems pardoning (white) country singer Merle Haggard for crimes such as robbery.

Of course, thanks largely to pressure from activists and anti-draft politicians, the draft ended in 1973 under right-leaning centrist, Richard Nixon. Selective Service was terminated in 1975 under another right-leaning centrist, Gerald Ford. Mandatory Selective Service registration, though not the draft itself, was reinstated in 1980 by left-leaning centrist Jimmy Carter. This demonstrates the difficulty in labeling support for the draft as right-wing or left-wing. In 1979, perhaps anticipating Carter’s actions, Reagan wrote that conscription, “rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state…. That assumption isn’t a new one. The Nazis thought it was a great idea.” The point that conscription has been a hallmark of fascist/totalitarian regimes was fair, though it would make Reagan’s later actions rather jarring. In his 1980 presidential campaign, he promised to end Selective Service if elected. The year after becoming president, however, he did a 180. “We live in a dangerous world,” he warned, announcing that he would continue forcing young men to register for the draft. Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, a moderate Republican and longtime critic of conscription, warned that, “The president by this action is issuing an invitation to establish a peacetime draft.” Representing left-wing opposition to the draft, David Landau of the ACLU denounced Reagan’s pivoting as, “an unconscionable decision,” and Reverend Barry Lynn of Draft Action called it, “a hypocritical and morally bankrupt decision representing a total break with Mr. Reagan’s historic commitment to volunteerism and individual freedom.” While Lynn was correct that bringing back Selective Service was morally bankrupt, he was wrong that Reagan had historically been committed to volunteerism and individual freedom. After a “grace period,” the Justice Department resumed prosecuting people who failed to register in the Summer of 1982. By September of 1983, there had been fifteen indcitments. All in all, it was quite a reversal for a man who, the year before being elected, had publicly linked conscription with Nazism.

 

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Ronald Reagan Hated Big Government Like a Rat Hates Cheese, Part 1: Obscenity Laws

For many longtime Republicans who dislike Donald Trump, especially non-Rockefeller Republicans, Ronald Reagan represents the yin to his yang. To be certain, there are major differences between the Gipper and the Groper, as is the case with every president. But there are also a lot of similarities. Reagan could make very mean-spirited, divisive statements (hoping that poor people would get botulism), cozy up with repressive foreign regimes (vetoing sanctions on both South Africa’s Apartheid government and Iraq under the Hussein regime), and act racist (it can sometimes be easier to keep track of times when he DIDN’T act racist.) Doubtless, many #NeverTrump Republicans also see Trump and Reagan as having very different views about the role of government, viewing Trump as authoritarian and Reagan as supporting small government. They are half-right. Trump is indeed a supporter of big government, but to claim that Reagan favored small government flies in the face of historical evidence. In order to see why, we must peel back his rhetoric and look at his actual policy record. With that in mind, I am doing a series of blog posts highlighting cases in which Reagan favored big government and am starting off with obscenity laws.

When Reagan got involved in California politics during the 1960s, he offered a great case study of using libertarian rhetoric as a cloak for bigoted policies. As I have discussed in detail elsewhere, from 1964 to his victory in the governors’ race in 1966, Reagan blasted anti-discrimination laws for housing. His arguments, however, hinged on small government. It wasn’t that he supported racism or discrimination, he insisted. He just believed in small government. Which made his position on obscenity laws rather jarring. Reagan also backed the unsuccessful Proposition 16, which would have greatly ramped up the state’s obscenity laws. California’s incumbent liberal Governor Pat Brown tried to head off Reagan on the issue by promoting laws to keep obscene materials away from children, but this did not satisfy Reagan and many other social conservatives. Obscene material, Reagan believed, must be kept away from adults as well. Among other superb displays of nanny-statism, Proposition 16 would have made it easier to classify material as obscene, such as by removing the requirement that such material be “utterly without redeeming social importance” in order to be banned. As a result, even some conservatives feared that it would lead to the banning of the Bible. This was Reagan’s vision for California: minorities being forced to commute two hours to work every day due to being shut out of the housing market was simply freedom of choice, while buying dirty magazines was a criminal matter.

Reagan persisted in his obsession with using the force of government to save Americans from smut as president. He appointed a commission to study pornography chaired by Henry Hudson, a Virginia D.A. praised by Reagan for “shutting down every adult bookstore in his district.” Unsurprisingly, the commission proposed new anti-porn laws. Reagan also found that he could more effectively censor obscene material by blending anti-free speech legislation with necessary, beneficial laws against child pornography. Late in his administration, he introduced a hodgepodge of laws called the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act. This legislation rightfully cracked down on child pornography, a vile, contemptible practice, by banning parents or guardians from selling their children to pornographers and forcing pornographers to carefully monitor the ages of their employees. For this, Reagan should be commended. Unfortunately, his legislation also banned the distribution of any obscene material, even if it involved consenting adults, via computers, Cable T.V., and phone lines. Unsurprisingly, the legislation passed, and Reagan signed it. But one must ask: is it consistent with a belief in limited government to be unable or unwilling to distinguish between pornography that exploits children and pornography that, however distasteful it is, depicts consenting adults? If his support for statism in this area were an anomaly, the depiction of Reagan as an advocate of small government might hold water. But as will be demonstrated in upcoming blog posts, it was very far from an anomaly.

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Down the Rabbit Hole of Persecution

In the weeks following the horrific Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting, there is once again a rush to scapegoat people with mental health problems, commonly referred to with the catch all term, “the mentally ill.” The Broward County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that people suffering from “mental illness should not have a gun. We need lawmakers’ help. We need the community’s help.” It is a familiar refrain. Political commentators sometimes talk about interest groups or institutions that are in political “sweet spots.” Americans who suffer from mental health issues can find themselves in a political sour spot when it comes to their freedom to own guns, as they suffer from many liberals’ support for gun control and many conservatives’ disdain for the disabled.

To be clear, an individual suffering from mental illness who has engaged in violent and/or criminal behavior should be subject to the same restrictions on gun ownership that apply to other people with histories of violence. But that, of course, is not what the Broward County Sheriff’s Office proposed, and many other Americans show a similar lack of discernment. I recently participated in a Facebook debate about keeping guns away from the mentally ill. A self-described Democratic Socialist dismissed the notion that someone suffering from mental health issues should have the same gun rights as anyone else if they had a clean criminal record. He compared it to laws prohibiting five year-old children from buying bazookas. At the other end of the political spectrum, former House Speaker John Boehner, who earned an A rating from the NRA, said in 2014 that, “There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons.” This would presumably include anyone who has suffered from anxiety, OCD, or depression. That is a rabbit hole that, given his own history of crying in public, Boehner ought not to go down. There is no reason to assume that even someone with severe mental health problems will necessarily go on to commit violent crimes if they have never done so before. On the other hand, there is every reason to think that people with mental health problems are less likely to seek treatment if they know that they may have their rights restricted.

The “rabbit hole” is not a bug but a feature of any policies aimed at applying special gun ownership restrictions to “mentally ill” people who have not committed any crimes. Once someone with Schizophrenia who has a history of hallucinating cannot own a gun, politicians and activists have an argument for denying guns to people with Bipolar Disorder. Once people with Bipolar Disorder are denied guns, it becomes easier to deny them to people with Asperger’s or Autism. Then it becomes easier to deny gun ownership to anyone who has suffered from OCD or PTSD or Depression. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome who has spent fifteen minutes herding a cockroach out the door to avoid killing it, this issue is very personal to me. Lest anyone think that people on the autistic spectrum are safe from the rush to scapegoat people with mental health problems, it is important to remember that multiple mass shooters have been alleged to have had Asperger’s or Autism. The New York Times ran an article in 2015 entitled, “The Myth of the ‘Autistic Shooter,’” but that has not stopped armchair psychologists from continuing to make the case that everyone on the autistic spectrum is a potential Adam Lanza. Indeed, as Dr. Emma E. McGinty, Assistant Professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, states, “Most people with mental illness are not violent toward others and most violence is not caused by mental illness, but you would never know that by looking at media coverage of incidents.” Additionally, even neurotypical people with histories of superb mental health ought to be alarmed by the idea that individuals can have their rights restricted because profiling suggests that they might be more likely to commit a violent crime. Such policies are a cornerstone of a totalitarian country and make all of us less free.

The support by elements of the American Left for keeping guns away from the mentally ill is not only uncharacteristically anti-civil liberties but also extremely inconsistent with how they respond to Muslims. Liberals who advocate keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people are essentially suggesting that if this demographic is more likely to commit mass shootings, this justifies special legal restrictions on them, such as Trump’s cruel actions toward refugees. To be clear, people should not be profiled, denied guns, barred from entering the country, or otherwise discriminated against for being Muslim. Nonetheless, there is no escaping the fact that Muslims are disproportionately likely to commit acts of terrorism. It has been pointed out that from 1980 to 2005, only six percent of terrorist attacks on American soil were carried out by Muslims. But Muslims only constitute about one percent of the U.S. population, meaning that this statistic actually shows that, relative to their numbers, Muslim Americans make up a disproportionate share of terrorists. Liberals rightly balk at proposals such as profiling Muslims at airport, patrolling Muslim neighborhoods, banning Muslim immigration, or requiring Muslims to register with the government. As stated above, people should not have their rights curtailed because some people from their demographic commit heinous acts. And focusing too much attention on suspects who fit the “right profile” can end up distracting attention from actual perpetrators. In 1901, President William McKinley was visiting Buffalo, New York. Secret Service Agent George Foster became preoccupied by the presence of a six-and-a half foot tall black man named James Parker. In fact, he was so preoccupied by the perceived threat from Parker that he failed to notice the white man standing in front of Parker, Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz, as it turned out, fatally shot McKinley. Admittedly, Parker did get involved in the shooting—by punching Czolgosz and wrestling him to the ground the to the ground.

There is a final reason that the public should strongly reject special gun control laws for the mentally ill and, frankly, should be skeptical about gun control more broadly. Throughout history, governments have tried to maintain the oppression of disfavored groups by limiting their access to weapons. In feudal Europe, peasants were often forbidden from carrying swords. In the United States, some of the earliest gun control laws attempted to prevent slave rebellions by forbidding black people from owning guns. Nazi Germany forbade Jewish people from owning guns or even knives or truncheons. Ronald Reagan, never particularly enamored with minority rights or gun rights, signed an open carry ban as Governor of California to disarm the Black Panthers. Both those who suffer from mental health problems and their allies must be vigilant against attempts by to disempower them by taking away their right to own guns. Because it is a lot harder to maintain rights than it is to win rights back once they have been taken away.

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It Offends Me, Therefore It Should Be Illegal: The Misguided Attempt to Ban Flag Desecration, Part 2

On a related note, I would like to address an argument that is quite farcical but has nonetheless come up. “How can you see flag desecration is a matter of freedom of conscience,” some people say, “When conservative Christian bakers have to make weddings cakes for gay couples [in some states, anyway.]” Well, it’s really very simple. Flag desecration is a form of political protest involving the destruction of an object that you personally own. (And if you don’t own the flag, desecrating it is covered under anti-theft/destruction of personal property laws.) A bakery refusing to make a cake for a same-sex couple involves a business denying service to some customers based on sexual orientation. If a liberal politician were to call for a ban on burning rainbow flags, the analogy would hold up from a legal standpoint (though I would consider it much more offensive than burning an American flag due to the implicit bigotry that would generally be involved). But burning a rainbow flag is legal in all fifty states, and I have yet to see a liberal politician call for outlawing it.

Additionally, from a pragmatic standpoint, consider the practical pitfalls of banning flag desecration. Many Americans, particularly those from historically marginalized and oppressed groups, feel that the United States has showed its true colors by electing Trump, proving that this is still a bigoted, cruel, oppressive, shameful nation. Banning flag desecration would be essentially making their argument for them by restricting their ability to protest. Furthermore, such a law would make the U.S. appear thin-skinned and prone to sweeping discontent under the rug. Nothing makes for bad P.R. quite like sending the message that you have large numbers of people angry enough to burn a flag and that your response is to muzzle them.

The final point is that it is important to note that Trump’s stance is not an anomaly in the Republican Party. Since 1989, conservatives/Republicans have generally voted in favor of proposed anti-flag burning legislation at a much higher rate than Democrats. In 1989, Republican Senators voted for a proposed anti-flag burning amendment 37-18, while Democrats rejected it 33-11. In 1995, the amendment received 219 “ayes” and only 12 “nays” from House Republicans, while House Democrats voted rejected the measure 107-93. In the Senate, a similar pattern was obvious. Republicans who participated voted “yay” 49-4, while Democrats voted “nay” 32-14. In these early roll calls, a significant number of the Republicans who voted “nay,” including Jim Kolbe, Robert Packwood, Wayne Gilchrest, Jim Jeffords, Christopher Shays, John Chafee, and Jim Leach, were moderate “Rockefeller Republicans,” while a significant number of Democratic “yay” votes came from moderate and conservative Democrats such as Robert E. Cramer, Howell Heflin, Ralph Hall, Robert Byrd, Ernest Hollings, Jimmy Hayes, and John Murtha. These votes were not anomalies. In 1997, House Republicans voted for a flag desecration amendment 210-13, while Democrats split their votes evenly. In 1999-2000, another flag desecration amendment was supported by House Republicans 210-10 and Senate Republicans 51-4 and opposed by House Democrats 113-95 and Senate Democrats 33-12. In 2001, House Republicans voted “yay” 207-11, and Democrats voted “nay” 113-90. In 2003, House Republicans voted “yay” 214-11, Democrats “nay” 113-86. Finally, in 2005-2006, Republicans voted “yay” 209-12 in the House and 52-3 in the Senate, while Democrats “nay” 117-77 in the House and 30-14 in the Senate. One of the Republican Senators to vote “nay,” Lincoln Chafee, eventually left the party, became an Independent, and endorsed Obama twice before becoming a Democrat. Esteemed figures in the GOP Establishment, such as both George Bushes, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, and Paul Ryan have endorsed or voted for gutting the First Amendment. So too did Tea Party figures such as Trent Franks, Phil Gingrey, Jim DeMint, and Mike Pence. Even Ron Paul, who spoke out against a flag desecration amendment as a Representative, stated that individual states had the right to ban it. Conservative pundits such as Sean Hannity and Ben Shapiro claimed to hate “political correctness” while calling for anti-flag burning legislation because it offended them. The editors of National Review endorsed a ban in 2006. In a Gallup poll that same year, an admittedly large number, 60%, of Democrats endorsed a flag burning amendment. But it was still markedly lower than the 73% of Republicans who were supportive. And this understates the divide between self described liberals and conservatives; 71% of conservatives wanted the amendment, while only 47% of liberals did. So Trump’s stance puts him well within the mainstream of American conservatism. Maybe their parents just emotionally coddled them.

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It Offends Me, Therefore It Should Be Illegal: The Misguided Attempt to Ban Flag Desecration, Part 1

For those Americans who had the very mistaken impression that censorship was solely promoted by “politically correct” leftists, reality struck again last week. On November 29, Trump took to Twitter to declare that, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” There is one bit of irony that to my knowledge nobody has remarked on here: November 29 marked the 205th birthday of abolitionist and anti-racism activist, Wendell Phillips. Phillips despised the Constitution because it restricted freedom vis a vis its support for slavery. Trump, by contrast, despises the Constitution because he thinks it grants people too much freedom. This is not the first time Trump has taken this position. In September of last year, he stated of flag burning, “Personally, I don’t think it should be legal.” But eight months before that, he had stated that he considered it free expression. I personally felt that his earlier statement in support of a flag burning ban should have been a warning that he likely had totalitarian tendencies. Unfortunately, what had happened was that after having flag burning be illegal for many years prior to the Supreme Court intervening in 1989, followed by scores of Republicans and all too many Democrats trying to re-ban it, Trump’s stance did not seem like a red flag to a lot of people.

Why should flag burning be permitted, even if we find it distasteful? Firstly, it is a form of free expression. Yes, it is not literal spoken speech. But it is an expression of protest against the government, and as such, it deserves just as much freedom from censorship as literal speech does. Do conservatives really want to live in a country where only spoken or written words are free from censorship? Under the logic that they use to argue for banning flag burning, the government would also have the authority to ban individuals from displaying the Confederate Flag on their car, drawing cartoons of President Obama, selling religious artwork, including a rattlesnake on “Don’t Tread on Me” posters, wearing crosses, or even flying the American Flag itself. Furthermore, I believe that out of all the efforts at censorship, calls to ban flag desecration are among the most dangerous. This is because these efforts involve attempting to directly censor a form of protest against the government and outright ban it from any public forum. From there, the country would be one step away from a Police State.

I certainly respect people, especially veterans and their friends and family, who feel that flag desecration is extremely disrespectful to the men and women who have fought and died for this country and that this therefore justifies banning it. However, putting aside the question of whether or not flag burning is actually an attack on soldiers and veterans as opposed to just the government, the fact that a form of expression elicits pain in many people is not just cause to ban it. Freedom of expression extends to forms of expression that are hurtful, disrespectful, and even reprehensible. And quite frankly, I find it rather hypocritical for conservatives to say that women, LGBT people, and racial minorities must “suck it up” and respect the free speech of people who engage in bigoted or hateful forms of expression, while people who are offended by flag desecration get to write their feelings into law.

While I am likely to be raked across the coals in some quarters for what I am about to say next, the visceral contempt, even hatred that gets directed at people who desecrate the flag leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I do not personally believe in burning the flag. I love America, I think that flag desecration is hurtful to many soldiers and veterans, as well as their friends and families, and often distracts from whatever point the person doing the desecrating was trying to raise. But I think that good people can come to different conclusions on this. And I believe it is extremely condescending for white, heterosexual, cis men such as myself to be lecturing people who have been oppressed or whose ancestors have been oppressed here about how great our country is. Those of us who love America and oppose flag desecration have to empathize with why other people may feel differently based on their personal or family experiences. Similarly, we have to respect that some allies of marginalized groups may feel that the United States’s shortcomings on civil rights justify flag desecration and that, again, this does not make them bad people. Many supporters of same-sex marriage, especially libertarians and conservatives, have called on other gay marriage advocates to be more respectful and tolerant of people who disagree and to stop demonizing them. If a gay person is asked to respect people who believe that they should have less rights because of their sexual orientation, then Americans should sure as Hell respect people who burn a piece of cloth with the government’s logo on it.

 

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