Congress is an easy target when Americans contemplate the varied issues - serious issues - facing their country, and certainly, many of the nation’s problems have been caused or exacerbated by lawmakers’ action or inaction. Admittedly, these most pressing issues are extremely complex. If they weren’t, problems involving the war on terror, escalating energy prices and the financial industry would have already been resolved. Hopefully, constructive work is under way on all of these matters. Meanwhile, it seems, symbolic gestures are all we have to offer as a way to signal some sort of activity, even if they don’t demonstrate real progress.
For example, the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday declared in a non-binding resolution that any flag flown on federal property - places like post offices and courthouses - should be made in the United States.
California Democrat Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, conceded that the matter is not one of the major problems facing America, but, he said, it is an irritant.
The import market for U.S. flags surged in the aftermath of the terrorists’ attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as American patriotism rose to historic levels. Foreign imports of American flags totaled about $1 million a year at the time, but that quickly jumped to $52 million in the weeks following the attacks. The demand was so great, U.S. manufacturers couldn’t keep up, according to an Associated Press report.
Lawmakers have required the Defense Department to buy American-made textiles and the Veterans Affairs Department to use American-made flags for burials. In Washington, D.C., only flags made in the U.S. fly over the nation’s Capitol. But there are more than 8,000 other federal buildings where no such requirement is in place.
Monday’s non-binding resolution has no enforcement process behind it. Filner said mandating any restrictions would conflict with existing trade agreements, and such limits cannot be put into effect after the fact.
Those trade agreements haven’t prevented individual states from taking action, how-ever. A new law in Minnesota says all flags sold in the state must be made in the United States, and violations are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 plus jail time of as many as 90 days. A handful of other states are also considering such measures.
Enthusiasm for flying the flag has declined since 2001, so U.S. manufacturers are now able to keep up with demand. The AP quoted industry executives as saying it is fully capable of supplying the existing market for flags; the problem with demand outstripping supply corrected itself early in 2002.
Some retailers are policing this situation themselves, choosing to sell only flags and other patriotic symbols that have their origins in the United States. For a lot of people, it only makes sense for their U.S. flags to bear the emblem “Made in USA.” If we’re going to show our nationalist pride, we should do so by making an investment in jobs for people in this country. But Congressional action? Maybe the American consumer is best suited to police this one.
With so many other pressing issues that Congress could be - should be - busy studying, flag resolutions may seem like just another way elected officials can polish their resumes so they can boast about their patriotism during a campaign year. However, with the controversy generated after Barack Obama quit wearing his lapel pin, perhaps it is indeed a politically expedient move.
Something that’s not so expedient, in my estimation, is the question that Virginia Senator John Warner posed about whether America should reimpose a national 55-mph speed limit. This was the solution to an energy crisis in the 1970s, and it lulled Congress and the rest of us into a misconception that something was actually being done about the situation. I guess Sen. Warner has never driven U.S. 90 between Marfa and Van Horn.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.