Old Glory All Set for Senate Fireproofing

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WASHINGTON: They're running it up the flagpole again -- the anti-flag-burning amendment, that is -- and this time it stands a good chance of staying up there. By an 11-7 vote Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recommended upper house approval of the 17-word amendment that makes it illegal to "destroy or damage" Old Glory. The measure passed the House overwhelmingly last year, and thanks to John Glenn's retirement and some vacillation by Democrats Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, the gentlemen from North Dakota, the would-be 28th amendment has a good chance to get the necessary two thirds in the Senate -- just in time for conservatives to look good on Memorial Day. "It's a safe perennial -- Mom and apple pie," says TIME congressional correspondent Jay Carney. "Political theater at its purest."

Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate heard from witnesses, some of them -- gasp -- politicians in need of a soapbox. Republican Chuck Hagel sees the ban as a cultural cure-all (and yes, he brought up Littleton); fellow GOPer John Chafee worries about mandating "respect and pride." New retiree John Glenn stopped in to point out that the flag might just stand for the freedom to burn it, and worried about prosecuting "desecration" in an era when people wear Old Glory bikini briefs. But trumping Glenn's war-hero card was ex-POW John McCain, who told a heart-sweller about stitching together makeshift flags in the bowels of North Vietnam. "American blood has been shed all over the world for the American flag... and I believe it deserves respect." Iowa primary, here he comes.