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February 8th, 2003:

Waving — not objectifying — Old Glory

In January, John Cornyn took the first step to fulfill a campaign promise to pass a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning. Here’s an excerpt from the January 17 Chron article, which is now archived:

“Our flag represents the thousands of brave men and women who have died over the years to protect the freedoms we all cherish,” Cornyn said.

Joining Cornyn and 42 others backing the amendment was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who supported previous efforts to pass the measure.

The proposal, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is designed to challenge a 1989 Supreme Court decision striking down flag protection statutes in 48 states as a violation of First Amendment free-speech rights.

Lawmakers in Congress for years have struggled to adopt a constitutional amendment protecting the flag from all forms of desecration, including burning.

Last week, the Chron ran an unsigned editorial criticizing Cornyn (also archived):

DISTRACTION When was an American last harmed by a burning flag?


Nine hours before President Bush began to deliver his State of the Union address this week, Sen. John Cornyn released a statement praising the great leadership the president showed when he gave the speech. Cornyn’s ability to see into the future is suspect, but his statement makes an important point that Cornyn himself should heed.

Cornyn, a Republican, applauded Bush’s priorities: homeland security, health care, jobs and economic growth. The junior senator from Texas predicted that Congress would act decisively to achieve those goals and would avoid partisan games.

Only a few days before, however, Cornyn announced he was taking over the chairmanship of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over proposed constitutional amendments and civil rights. Cornyn renewed his commitment to advance an amendment that would allow Congress to outlaw and punish flag-burning and other forms of desecration.

At a time when the nation is on the brink of war with Iraq, when it is vulnerable to stateless terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, when the war on terror is increasing government’s intrusion into Americans’ lives, Cornyn believes the Senate, its staff and hearing witnesses should spend countless hours debating an amendment to combat a rare occurrence that harms no one. Such an amendment would weaken Americans’ First Amendment freedoms already under attack, but it would increase no one’s security, give no one health care, stimulate no economic growth and produce no jobs, unless they were for police officers and prosecutors who would be better occupied combating dangerous criminals and terrorists.

Cornyn’s press aide, Don Stewart, could not recall a single instance when someone had burned an American flag. He said he once saw people stepping on a flag lying on the ground in the Washington Mall. Although he had a clear view of this alleged atrocity, Stewart said he could not get to the flag to lift it from the ground.

This implausible tale is meant to justify a determined attempt in the Senate to undermine liberty in the name of patriotism. In this petty, partisan pursuit, Sen. Cornyn risks blotting the reputation for intellect and integrity he established as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and as state attorney general. Worse, Cornyn would deliberately and irresponsibly distract the nation’s attention from the grave matters he acknowledged in his prescient praise for the president’s leadership.

Cornyn took issue with this editorial and wrote a letter to the editor:

I read with amazement the Chronicle’s Feb. 1 editorial (“Distraction / When was an American last harmed by a burning flag?”) denouncing my efforts to prevent the desecration of the American flag. I was astonished to learn that the Chronicle feels such efforts are both irresponsible and a distraction. That’s not what veterans from across Texas who’ve asked me to support the flag amendment say.

During a week in which men and women in uniform were being deployed overseas to defend the flag , the Chronicle belittled my attempts to honor their service. And in the years of rebuilding after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Chronicle dismissed as a “petty, partisan pursuit” my willingness to hold hearings on protecting our nation’s most beloved symbol.

Had you researched the bill, you would have seen that so far nearly half the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, co-sponsored this legislation. Patriotism is not a partisan issue. I can’t wait to see what you’ll write on Flag Day.

John Cornyn , U.S. senator

Today, the Chron published six letters in response to Cornyn. Five of them took him to task, including the following two from veterans:

Rather than address the issues raised in the Chronicle’s Feb. 1 editorial about “flag burning,” Sen. John Cornyn instead chose to “wave the flag” even higher and faster in his letter to Viewpoints.

He stated that men and women in uniform are being deployed overseas to “defend the flag.” Really? I thought they were being deployed overseas to protect our country. His inability to distinguish between these two very different things is offensive to this Vietnam veteran.

Why doesn’t he work on our country’s real problems, instead of using my flag to begin his 2008 reelection campaign.

James Artlip, Sugar Land


I was worried that Sen. John Cornyn’s learning curve as freshman senator would be pretty steep, since he has never been to Washington, D.C., as an elected official.

But as I read his Feb. 5 Viewpoints letter (“Cornyn’s defending our flag”) responding to the Chronicle’s editorial about his amendment to ban flag-burning, I see my fears were unfounded: He has obviously already mastered the conservative modus operandi of whining, attacking those who disagree with you and portraying them as un-American.

I am one veteran who is proud to oppose a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag. I put my life on the line for the powerful things our national symbol represents — such as the freedoms of speech, expression, association and religion — rather than the symbol itself.

Look for me on Flag Day. I’ll be one of those waving — not objectifying — Old Glory.

Jim Krzmarzick, League City

I should note that the one letter that supported Cornyn was also written by a vet, one who made the same mistake as Cornyn in assuming that “other veterans agree with me”.

I’m amazed not only at the number of letters the Chron printed, but especially at how many of them opposed the anti-flag burning amendment. Some days your faith gets restored a little, I guess.

I can’t let this go completely without one obligatory Chron-bashing remark: When they print a letter that’s in response to a news article, editorial or prior letter, would it kill them to link to the original piece? At least news articles are searchable on their site without having to go into the archives, but everything on the op-ed pages disappears the next day unless you bookmark it. This seems like such a no-brainer to me.

The next generation

Yesterday, I played in the 2003 Houston Regional Bridge Tournament. One tradition of such tournaments is the Midnight Zip Knockouts, which is a team event that takes place after the evening session. As the name implies, it’s intended to be played at a faster rate than regular events. Tradition also demands that it be played in a casual, loosey-goosey fashion – I know quite a few people who won’t play in a midnight zip event unless alcohol is involved. At one point last night, the director was exhorting slowpokes to get a move on by saying “Faster, people – this is no time to be playing bridge!”

Now, as old age has taken its toll, I’ve generally given up on playing in midnight events. I need my beauty sleep more than I need a few cheap thrills. Last night I made an exception for two reasons: One, the evening session started and finished earlier than in years past, allowing the Midnight Zip to commence a bit before 11 PM. Two, and more importantly, I was asked to be on a team with Morgan Compton.

Morgan is the not-quite-eight-year-old daughter of Chris and Donna Compton. Chris is a professional player and national champion. Morgan started learning bridge about a year ago. She had just gotten her ACBL membership card, and had been promised the opportunity to play in a real event at this tournament. Since Chris has professional obligations and Donna has returned to work as a tournament director, the zip was the best chance. Chris was to play with Morgan, while my partner (Binkley, as it happens) and I would be at the other table.

Amazingly enough, the first match ended in a dead tie. Normally, that would force overtime, since this is a knockout event, but not in this case because there were a non-power of two number of entries. So we got to play a second match, and this time we lost by one point (that’s International Match Point, or IMP, in case you’re curious; they’re calculated from the difference in scores of each hand at the two tables). I’m pleased to report that Morgan and Chris got to play a number of hands, and she did very well.

Tournament bridge is, sadly, a game played by mostly older folks. It’s been fifteen years since I started playing tournaments, and I’m still one of the youngest players at any given event (though not nearly as much at the Nationals). It was really cool to help a member of the next generation get her start, and I look forward to the day when I can say to her what so many others have said to me over the years: “Oh, it’s so nice to see young people playing bridge!”