Bullet Holes In the Flag
by Wendy McElroy

A strong theme runs through all eight of President Clinton's State of the Union Addresses (SUAs), yet it rarely receives comment. When it does, it is dismissed as cynical flag-waving aimed at rousing patriotic lumps in the throats of listeners. I refer to his constantly calling upon America's past to justify present proposals as 'continuations' of a political legacy. People dismiss this tactic at their own risk.

Clinton is playing an ace card. He became President through a process specified in a Constitution that he swore to uphold at his inauguration. His Administration has legitimacy only because it is the last in an unbroken chain of Administrations dating back to George Washington. By wrapping himself in a patina of the past, Clinton is trying to evoke the same emotion that brings baseball fans leaping to their feet for the national anthem. Yet Americans do not burst into tearful song because they are loyal to a particular administration or President but because they love the political ideals embodied by the United States, especially those of individual freedom as expressed in the Bill of Rights.

Thus, the fundamental question is not whether Clinton's Administration continues the political structure established by the Constitution: it does. The question is whether it continues those political ideals: it does not. And without the ideals for which the structure was created as a protection, the Clinton administration is a bitter mockery of the past it claims to honor.

Another theme runs through Clinton's SUAs: the call for anti-gun legislation. On this issue, as with many others, Clinton shows that his attachment to the 'founding principles' has the strength of a post-it note. The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights declares that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." In other words, the right of self-defense is an ideal upon which America was founded. Yet consider the following snippets from Clinton's past SUAs. One side of his mouth venerates America's past while the other side attempts to destroy its ideals.


Clinton states that America is "at last what our founders pledged us to be so long ago." Later, Clinton offers an anecdote. "[W]hen the framers finished crafting our Constitution in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin stood in Independence Hall and he reflected on the carving of the sun that was on the back of a chair he saw. The sun was low." Franklin concluded that the sun was rising, not setting. Clinton declares, "Today, because of succeeding generations of Americans have kept the fire of freedom burning brightly ... we all bask in the glow and warmth of Mr. Franklin." Then, he concludes, "After 224 years, the American Revolution continues."

In between evoking founding fathers, Clinton rips their ideals to shreds: "I propose to ensure that all new handgun buyers must first have a photo license from their state showing they passed the Brady background check and a gun safety course."


Clinton declares to the American people, "Because of you, the Star Spangled Banner will be preserved for the ages. In ways large and small, as we look to the millennium, we are keeping alive what George Washington called the sacred fire of liberty." Then, he explains that he has just asked Congress "to restore the five-day waiting period for buying a handgun and to extend the Brady Bill."


Clinton rhapsodizes, "Nearly 200 years ago, a tattered flag, its broad stripes and bright stars still gleaming through the smoke of a fierce battle, moved Francis Scott Key to scribble a few words on the back of an envelope, the words that became our National Anthem. Today, that Star-Spangled Banner, along with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, are on display just a short walk from here." Then, he requests that Congress "pass a juvenile crime bill...to crack down on gangs and guns..."


Clinton reminds the people, "America is far more than a place; it is an idea -- the most powerful idea in the history of nations, and all of us in this chamber, we are now the bearers of that idea, leading a great people into a new world." A moment prior to this he had called for "legislation that extends the Brady bill"

For brevity's sake, only SUAs from Clinton's second term are touched upon, although patriotic invocations were constant in early ones as well. Indeed, for eight years, Clinton has done everything but wipe his eyes and blow his nose into the original flag sewn by Betsy Ross.

What he hasn't done is live up to the principles of '76. He hasn't even tried. His loud and persistent attempt to regulate guns is nothing less than a frontal assault on one of the fundamental rights of the Constitution. To require a license in order to exercise a right -- such as gun ownership -- is to convert that right into a government privilege. If rights required licenses then the rights to due process, freedom of religion and trial by jury would also require mandatory testing and a government photo I.D. before they could be exercised. While Clinton's words invoke the Constitution, his actions reveal utter contempt for it.