The Flag Amendment: Forever May It Wave

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If the Fourth of July is coming soon, it must be time for Congress to consider yet again a constitutional amendment against desecrating the flag. True to form, for the third time in four years, the House adopted on Thursday its latest version of the amendment. The vote was 305 to 124, or 19 votes above the requisite two-thirds majority. As in the past, the measure is expected to get tripped up in the Senate, which has never managed to line up the two-thirds vote. This year, North Dakota’s two Democratic senators, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, had been expected to back the amendment, but they came out in favor of a statute instead (despite knowing full well -- or, as critics claim, because they knew full well -- that the Supreme Court has twice ruled such a statute to be unconstitutional).

As a result, few observers expect the flag desecration ban to go anywhere this year, other than into the ears of supportive voters. “Republicans have been on the defensive for weeks over guns,” says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson. “This is an attempt to get back on their own turf of cultural issues, as they did last week when they pressed the House to accept the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools.” This is part of the broader “faith, family and country debate,” which the GOP believes works well for the party, says Dickerson. With Democrats equally ready to argue gun control, health care and Social Security at the first opportunity, campaign 2000 is getting off to a very early start.