In its Notebook section, The New Republic suggests that Hillary Clinton took a stand against the loathsome flag-burning amendment on principle (subscription required):
Hillary Clinton has had a curious week. There was the release of a "biography" that ambitiously sets out to unmask the senator as a heartless, Machiavellian, asexual, Vince Foster-shagging lesbian... And then, dwarfed by the commotion, there has actually been something that mattered: another attempt by Republicans to pass a constitutional amendment against flag-desecration, a fight in which Clinton had to pick a side. Did the senator pass this test of patriotism?
As it turns out, yes. "I don't believe a constitutional amendment is the answer," Clinton announced. "Those few who would destroy a flag are not worthy of the response of amending our founding document." Some editorial writers might appreciate this, but, for the most part, Hillary Clinton has little politically to gain from it. Her supporters would forgive her for backing the amendment; her opponents would be denied a political weapon against her. In other words, the senator's behavior seems to be based on something suspiciously resembling, well, principle.
It will not be an easy vote, as evidenced by the carefully worded statement issued by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I support federal legislation that would outlaw flag desecration, much like laws that currently prohibit the burning of crosses, but I don't believe a constitutional amendment is the answer," she said, adopting a position similar to the one taken by her husband, former President Clinton, when he was in office.
Her aides said there is no contradiction in being against the flag-burning amendment and for a flag-burning law.
They say she believes a federal law would not trample First Amendment rights because, like laws against cross burnings, it would ban flag desecration that is deemed to pose a threat to others — and not acts of political expression that are protected by the First Amendment.
However, a law like the one proposed by the senator would likely be challenged in courts because Congress has no clear right to outlaw flag burning. That is why supporters of the ban want to add a one-line amendment to the Constitution that says, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
Principle my ass -- that's a politically motivated attempt to split the difference between two sides of an issue if I've ever seen one. Ben gets this exactly right:
Can't you just see the Republican ad now? Hillary Clinton: "I actually voted for an anti-flag burning law before I voted against it."
How can Hillary Clinton possibly vote for a law but not the authority to let Congress pass that law? At least John Kerry had the advantage of being technically correct when he said he voted against the $87 billion in troops funding before he voted for it. Hillary isn't even being intellectually honest here. So even the liberal elite press who pay close attention to these matters will massacre her. And rightfully so.
Just like Hillary's refusal to make a pledge to serve out her next term as senator, this perfectly sets up the upcoming Republican attack on her as a slippery, opportunistic politician. I recognize that Clinton, like all Democrats, has to be concerned about appearing to be weak or unpatriotic in any way (a special concern, sadly, for a female candidate). But this hedge won't satisfy anyone, and it is arguably more damaging to her than opposing flag burning because it reinforces people's stereotypes of her as an ambitious careerist.
(For more, see my many previous posts on Hillary 2008.)