That's when they try to imply that they're more patriotic than the other guys. So they trot out issues like sex and violence on TV, illegal immigration, and English as America's official language. In addition to demonstrating what good Americans they are, these issues also distract attention from the fact that they're not dealing with other important things — like a war in which people are dying every day.
This week, they dusted off an old favorite — a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would ban desecrating the American flag. It failed to pass the Senate by one vote, but I promise you, it'll be back.
It's a perfect issue for those who want to avoid controversy. How do you criticize someone who's against people burning or otherwise marring our flag? In the past, similar laws were found to be unconstitutional because the Supreme Court ruled they violated the First Amendment. So some people thought this Amendment would conflict with Amendment No. 1. Others just thought the flag amendment was unnecessary. It's not like there has been a recent rash of flag desecrations going on that only an amendment could prevent. (Unless you count some of the people who wear little flags in their lapels while they act in complete defiance of what the flag stands for.)
An amendment to the Constitution is much more dramatic than simply passing a law. That's what makes a possible amendment so attractive to those who present themselves as professional patriots. If the "Don't Mess With The Flag Amendment" had passed, it would have been one of only 28 amendments passed in the history of this country. You might not think it ranks up there in importance with outlawing slavery and giving women the right to vote. But try arguing that point with those who apparently feel that since it wasn't passed, the uncounted legions of flag desecrators will continue to roam America, free to continue to commit this offense.
As long as public officials want to avoid dealing with difficult issues, and as long as they want to be perceived as more patriotic than their opponents, there will be the potential for the flag amendment to be brought up again. And again. It's quite possible that it won't be the only proposed amendment of questionable necessity and very little risk in terms of supporting it. In the near future, I won't be shocked to hear about:
The American Way To Cross The Street Amendment would clearly state that a red light means stop, and a green light means go. Whether it's OK to turn right on a red light will not be a federal issue.
The National Anthem Amendment would guarantee that "The Star Spangled Banner" would be the official National Anthem. This will be a big blow to the lobbyists who have been pushing for "I've Been Working On The Railroad." It is already the National Anthem but those who vote for this Amendment will be demonstrating just how patriotic they are.
The White House Amendment would prohibit any future President from having the White House painted any color but white. It may be painted off-white with two-thirds approval from both Houses of Congress.
After a while, they'll have to look even harder for "good ol' American issues" that need to be guaranteed by constitutional amendments:
The American Diet Amendment will guarantee that nobody has a right to tell us to be wiser about what we eat. If we Americans want to kill ourselves with fast food, that's one of our inalienable rights. The second clause of this Amendment states that American Cheese will be the official cheese of America. Foreign cheeses will continue to be viewed with suspicion.
The American Sports Amendment will guarantee that "soccer" will always be called soccer in America, even though the rest of the world calls it "football." Furthermore, even if it ever really catches on here, soccer is forever barred from becoming this country's "National Pastime." The Constitution will recognize only those sports as "American" that don't involve the bouncing of a ball off one's head.
The American Golf Pants Amendment would bar the wearing of brightly colored golf pants from anywhere in America except on a golf course. (I'm no expert, but I believe this Amendment has the greatest chance of passing.)
By the time you read this, some people in Washington will probably have thought of other "important and absolutely necessary" constitutional amendments that we can't even imagine. But whatever they are, I guarantee they won't be about expanding the powers of columnists.
Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver