Freedom hangs on by a vote

I know there are going to be plenty of people out there on the net that disagree with me, but yesterday's 66-34 vote that missed by one the opportunity to amend the US Constitution is both a happy thing and a sad thing.

I'm certainly happy that it didn't make it off of the Senate floor, but we should all be sad that it came that close.

Sad because it's a symbol of how much less substance is important than symbolism. According to the biggest supporters of the amendment, the Citizens Flag Alliance, here's the tally of reported flag burning incidents over the past few years:

Year Incidents Incidents not vandalism
2006 (to date) 4 1 (unclear)
2005 13 1 (possible)
2004 3 1
2003 6 4
2002 11 1
2001 14 7
2000 2 2
1999 9 7 (including one incident of a man wearing a flag as a dress)

Let me be absolutely clear about the practice, I don't condone the burning of the US Flag, and I love my country, despite my belief that it hasn't yet achieved all that it can. However, I don't see how crushing those with opposing political views is going to make us a better democracy.

Most acts of flag burning in the US are actually covered under existing vandalism laws. Checking the table above, especially after 9/11/2001, you can see that there are 62 incidents since 1999 and of those 24 (and only 11 after 9/11) are incidents where people burned their own flags. As it stands, it is now and has always been illegal to steal and burn or desecrate a flag—it's a property crime and gets to the heart of the matter. If you want to burn a flag, burn your own.

More vexing for me is that instead of focussing on the issue of flag burning—which is that people are feeling disaffected and thus believe the only way to get their point across is to do something spectacular—our elected representatives have chosen to focus on the symptom of dissent.

When will these people (whom we all elect) learn to stop playing with the Constitution for political expediency and instead get down to work and try and solve issues that are really affecting people.

An amendment expanding the powers of the US Congress to limit free speech doesn't get us any closer to covering the 1/3 of our public that doesn't have good access to medical care. In fact, it's only going to cause the congress to debate for more days on the exact nature of the protections they would enact if they were to have the power to enact them, and in the end, it will only matter for a handful of people (two dozen over 8 years).

Don't they have better things to do with the time that we give them to represent us?